By Saira Bajwa, Solutions Specialist
For communities that struggle with the realities of poverty, the digital divide has taken on new urgency, as so many components of daily life now rely on having access to a reliable and affordable internet connection.
Conversations about the digital divide in the United States typically center on a lack of infrastructure in rural communities, where internet providers don’t have a profitable consumer base and people build their own broadband networks to stay connected. In cities, the barrier to accessing the internet is the high price of a reliable and functional connection. The stories in this collection highlight responses in American cities that address both internet access and affordability.
Despite successful lobbying efforts from commercial broadband providers to ban local governments from creating their own networks in 22 states, American cities have creatively implemented solutions to address the issue of affordability. Chattanooga, Tennessee, installed fiber-optic cables on streetlights. San Antonio and Pittsburgh used pre-existing infrastructure to connect underserved neighborhoods with high-speed internet.
In Los Angeles, a provider brings affordable internet to public housing complexes for $15 a month, following a free six-month trial period. And, in South Dakota, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe benefitted from new technology that allowed them to use radio waves to access high-speed internet with funding from the federal CARES Act.
Affordability, not just infrastructure alone, must be addressed in order to remedy a lack of internet access. Reliable and affordable internet access is vital to economic mobility in a time when educational and professional success rely on staying connected.
- One of the SJN Success Factors is addressing underlying issues: the structural, systemic causes of problems that arise due to the fundamental ways in which society is structured. What are the root causes of the digital divide? Are they different across diverse geographic regions?
- The Lower Brule Tribal Council has autonomous control over funding and decisions for the tribal school. How did this local ownership impact their decision making and plan of action?
- Even before the pandemic made the necessity of Internet access abundantly obvious, some people have argued that we need to treat Internet access like a public utility (similar to electricity or water). Do you agree or disagree with this idea? How do the articles in this collection shape your opinion on the issue? What would we need to do, as a society, to reimagine digital infrastructure as a public utility?
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.