A 2.0 Modest Proposal for U.S. Urban Cities

Over the past few months I’ve been perusing Craigslist for real estate properties in NYC and New Jersey partly because I like to window shop in virtual space, and partly because I’m nearing that stage in my life of wanting to own a piece of the American pie.

While scanning the classifieds I came across tons of new housing development projects in areas like Newark, New Jersey, for instance. Home developers are offering to pay closing cost with $8,000 tax incentives, 10-year warranties, 5-year tax abatement, and even 42″ big screen TVs to lure new buyers. I couldn’t help but think, “hell, I need to get in where I fit in!” Though, the techy-nerdy-community-activist in me wondered why these same housing developers weren’t offering computers or laptops along with Energy Star appliances or, in the very least, include 1-year’s worth of free broadband Internet connection service as part of an incentives package.

Surely, families in urban areas would benefit more from having a new computer and high-speed Internet access (with quality bandwidth space) in their homes than from having a 42″ big screen TV mounted on the wall.

But apparently, it’s not that simple.

While the federal government has set aside funds to support broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas, there are no mandates ordering that these funds be specifically allocated to lower income communities through urban renewal projects or by way of public housing initiatives. So as long as the federal government doesn’t mandate or provide subsidies for broadband Internet, then chances are local urban governments won’t set aside extra funds for these initiatives in their annual budgets.

New research from The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies indicates that broadband use is highest among those with greater levels of income or education. Yet, despite this, and older studies, federal and local governments appear apathetic toward ensuring that across-the-board broadband Internet access is provided within lower income residential communities.

Granted, issues concerning how local governments and business provide services to communities, through either ISP (Internet Service Provider) or subscriber, indeed matter. Who will fit the bill if our federal government won’t mandate or subsidize city governments and private companies to offer these services and infrastructure?

If what is currently taking place in the UK with the Digital Economy Bill is any indication of what might happen in the US, that is, governments not exempting universities, libraries, and small businesses to provide open Wi-Fi services (h/t @blogdiva)–then yeah, we’re screwed.

Or maybe not.

As the Founder and President of Media Make Change, it is my responsibility to incite discussion and offer ideas that address the disproportionate relationship between marginalized communities and broadband Internet access, including digital literacy–while, at the same time, agitate community leaders and politicians to act in the very best interest of these communities.

So with that, I offer the following 2.0 Modest Proposal, with the promise that infants won’t be offered up as food.

  1. Since “age, family income, and educational attainment are three major barriers that critically stifle minority Internet use and home broadband adoption,” I propose that urban city governments and housing developers include at least one computer or laptop per household with at least 1-year free broadband service as part of their incentive packages to attract new, young, and lower-income (including fixed-income) home owners.
  2. If condo developers in Los Angeles can provide free Wi-Fi access to its buyers, then so can developers (with large amounts of money, supplies, and credit set aside for each project) in urban neighborhoods like Cleveland, Detroit, D.C., and Newark. (H/T @sjean70).
  3. With Teachers Villages springing up in cities like Newark, NJ, why not build “Internet Villages” made up of small Internet Cafes and Learning Centers that directly provide residents with Internet services right in their very own backwards? Organizations like Media Make Change can work with local governments and housing developers to host free digital media and web training workshops that encourage using technology as means for civic engagement and social entrepreneurship.
  4. Since Google plans “to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States . . . [and] offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people,” then I propose that these same urban city governments and housing developers take Google up on its offer and build Internet Cafes within a one-mile radius of these residential areas. So the question of who will fit the bill if our federal government won’t mandate or subsidize public and private companies to offer these services? is answered. In fact, Google can, if you let ‘em. (H/T @AUFBRAND).

Seems easy enough. However, the reality is if we had the full support of the federal government to encourage mandate implement these initiatives, life would be a helluva lot easier for advocates, businesses, and community members alike.

So for now, I suggest contacting the following government officials and urge them to consider a 2.0 Modest Proposal, which encourages implementing projects that address broadband Internet access and digital literacy disparities within low-income communities, communities of color, communities with dis/abilities, and senior communities.

Feel free to tell them that I sent you.

The Feds:

Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

House Committee on Science and Technology

The Congressional Black Caucus

Mayor Offices in Urban Cities:

Baltimore

Chicago

Cleveland

Detroit

Fort Worth

Philadelphia

Newark

Washington, D.C.

The list goes on so please feel free to add your cities and thoughts below.

In solidarity,

Tara

**UPDATE: Looks like someone has already been working on bringing broadband Internet into low income communities. Check out Rey Ramsey, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of One Economy Corporation.

Email: tara (at) mediamakechange (dot) org

Media Make Change on Twitter.

PG

Tara has blogged 57 posts here.

Comments


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