Home > Uncategorized > The Case for Broadband for ALL – Part 2 Urban Schools

The Case for Broadband for ALL – Part 2 Urban Schools

Friday’s Nation on line featured an article by Maya Wiley describing how New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has taken steps in the past two years to bridge the digital divide. The problem in NYC is not access to the broadband lines themselves but poverty. Wiley eloquently describe the importance of broadband for urban children and the obstacles the mayor faced to bring it to all residents:

Few would debate that the information superhighway is both an on-ramp and HOV lane for the global economy. Whether a resident needs to get online to access homework or supplemental educational tools, to search for a job or start a business, broadband is a necessity. Most may not realize how many can’t afford it. Jillian Maldonado, a South Bronx single mom who was earning $300 a week as an Avon representative is an all-too-familiar victim of the digital divide. After a long day, she would come home, make her young son dinner, and then take him past the check-cashing store, a small grocery, and the occasional drug dealer to get to the library to get him online to do his homework.

A family that doesn’t know how it will make its monthly rent payment may not have $75 a month for in-home broadband, let alone a computer. More than a third of low-income New Yorkers still do not have broadband at home. It’s why this year, for the first time in the history of the city, we added a broadband category to the capital budget and pledged $70 million over the next 10 years towards free or low-cost wireless service for low-income communities. These investments are part of the mayor’s aggressive approach to expanding broadband access.

There is no off-roading to solve income inequality for people of color. They must have broadband. And the solutions for neighborhoods where most residents struggle to make ends meet require accountability and fair play by large telecommunications firms. Mayor de Blasio has been unflinching in his demand that firms like Verizon and those trying to enter the New York market, like Charter and Altice (which has entered into a deal to buy Cablevision that will require City approval), play by the rules, be transparent, and demonstrate that they will contribute to the public interest, not solely their own. Verizon, in particular, which is under contractual obligation with the City to bring high-speed fiber-optic service to all New York households that want it, is key to ensuring more competition.

But the large incumbent firms tend to lack business models that make services available to those who can’t pay for their broadband packages. Bringing costs down substantially requires many more market entrants than we currently have in New York. We can work on that.

There are two common threads to the problem of providing internet access to rural and urban areas. First, as Wiley charitably noted, “…large incumbent firms tend to lack business models that make services available to those who can’t pay for their broadband packages”… which is to say there is no profit involved in providing internet services to poor people unless it is through the collection of interest on unpaid bills, a practice that effectively penalizes poor people for their poverty. Secondly, some level of government funding is necessary. Later in her article Wiley describes how community organizations can band together to provide the “last mile” of the broadband highway, but as she notes the local government will be budgeting $700,000,000 of capital costs to provide broadband for all.

Ms. Wiley doesn’t say so explicitly, but her article does make it clear that the provision of broadband is not just an economic issue… it is a social justice issue. We cannot expect children born into neighborhoods and communities without internet access to compete with children who use technology from the time their parents believe it is acceptable.

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