RS 1: Detroit

Detroit’s digital divide is leaving nearly half the city offline

In “Detroit’s digital divide is leaving nearly half the city offline,” Trevor Bach tackles the issue of internet access among the City’s residents. Bach offers anecdotes from locals without access, illustrating the extra steps they must take to stay connected or perform necessary, everyday tasks. According to Bach, although Detroit has seen economic progress in recent years, “approximately 40 percent of Detroit households remain completely offline” (1). For those who do receive access, AT&T and Comcast are the two providers who primarily serve metro Detroit, with broadband service plans starting at $40 per month and $25 per month, respectively. However, after “entering agreements with the FCC,” (2) Bach says both companies provide broadband service at lower rates for qualifying low-income residents. Even with these options and a heavy dependence on the Internet by most of the U.S., many Detroit residents still have trouble obtaining access, with former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler stating, “Detroit’s digital divide is among the most extreme in the nation” (2). Bach notes that this disparity is largely due to infrastructural issues that stem from a history of discrimination based on financial status, citing an analysis done by Bill Callahan and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. The analysis found that AT&T purposely and strategically administered better Internet connection in “wealthier southeast Michigan neighborhoods while neglecting poorer ones” in order to increase profit (2). Regarding Detroit specifically, the aforementioned organizations discovered that aside from suburban areas, most of the city is still offline. In order to help mitigate Detroit’s digital divide, Bach says the Equitable Internet Initiative, a “grassroots internet service provider” which functions as part of the Detroit Community Technology Project, sends digital stewards to homes in disadvantaged areas to connect the Internet (3). The organization focuses not only on getting homes online, but also on ensuring the connection they receive is of high-speed, according to Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project. Though the EII helps serve a small portion of Detroit, Bach notes that the city’s digital infrastructure will continue to struggle for the foreseeable future, acknowledging that the shift to an increasingly digital world “is also contributing to more inequality, with low-income people…at a greater risk of being left behind” (3).

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