In #BensTake, our President and CEO, Ben Hecht, shares a candid response to one of the week’s key news stories, focused on issues that impact low-income people.
The infrastructure that will prepare our cities for the twentieth-century goes beyond roadways, and even high speed rail. For decades, the “geography of opportunity” – the borders within which people’s economic lives play out – has been expanding radically from neighborhood to city, to region and even to the globe at large. Being “connected” means more than access to transit or one’s physical proximity to local institutions or services. Today, for low-income people, broadband access and the myriad health, educational and governmental resources it unlocks are absolutely essential to increasing one’s life chances. Fast, reliable, and most importantly, affordable broadband service and infrastructure is a critical platform for individual and community prosperity.
The fact is, however, that only 45% of households with incomes of $20,000 or less have regular broadband access, and about one-third of black and Hispanic households lack regular Internet service.
Let’s be honest here, anyone at all with even modest means in the U.S. makes sure that they have high speed broadband in their home, that their children have a smartphone and often even their own broadband-enabled device that they can use anywhere for school, social networking and more. The question ‘Whether access to these technologies is essential to live, let alone succeed, in the 21st century?’ is no longer an open question. The answer is yes. I am absolutely certain that anyone who argues otherwise fully uses those technologies themselves.
This is why I am particularly encouraged by what seems to be an amazing confluence of happenings at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and around the country to address this. Last week, the FCC courageously took steps to preempt state laws that outlaw the creation of municipally owned Internet infrastructure like in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina. As reported in numerous media outlets, competition to deliver broadband speeds fast enough to serve modern homes simply does not exist in most of the country. Add in affordability and it’s no wonder we have access below developing world levels.
Freedom to compete at the local level couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
And this freedom to compete at the local level couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Late last year, a coalition of more than 50 cities came together as Next Century Cities. They are committed to developing solutions to expand Internet access in their areas. With the federal government as a partner, this groundswell stands a chance of radically redefining what it means to be connected, and bringing low-income individuals into the fold. These actions come as we are seeing progress on other fronts. Competition from Google’s fiber networks in an expanding number of cities led by Kansas City, Living Cities’ own City Accelerator, and the Freshman Year for Free initiative to give every American a free year of college online, not only make availability more likely but also open up compelling and potentially transformational uses of the internet to benefit low-income people and support their role in our democracy.
Image credit: Broadband by Flickr user, Sean MacEntee. CC by 2.0.