Wired Less: Disconnected in Urban America

For many Americans living in urban areas, high-speed Internet access remains elusive.

Much discussion about broadband expansion in the United States
focuses on the rural areas that still lack this essential
infrastructure. As we documented in our earlier report, Five Days on the Digital Dirt Road, residents in rural areas are struggling to live and work without high-speed Internet.

But this rural snapshot only shows a part of the picture of the
digital divide in America. Even in some of our most tech-savvy wired
cities, millions of people - particularly low-income households,
immigrant populations and senior citizens - do not have high-speed
Internet in their homes or businesses.

Barriers to Access

For many urban residents, high-speed Internet services, which
typically cost $40 to $60 per month, are simply too pricey. Compounding
the Internet access problem, many people are unable to afford a
computer or lack the skills to navigate the Web.

And just like their rural counterparts, some urban areas have been
redlined by Internet service providers that refuse to offer service to
communities that may not provide as large a financial return.

Many urban residents are locked out, unable to participate fully in
the digital era. They're prevented from applying for jobs,
telecommuting, taking online classes or even finishing their homework.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Internet connectivity is key to a
sound economy and could assist those hit hardest by the economic

Additionally, the Internet has revolutionized the way everyday
people can mobilize, organize and work for social change. It allows
people - at least those fortunate enough to have a high-speed
connection - to create media with their own voices.

From Coast to Coast

To further understand how the digital divide is affecting our urban
areas, Free Press traveled to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. We
interviewed dozens of people trying to raise families, go to school,
and start businesses using antiquated dial-up service or relying on
libraries or community centers for a high-speed connection.

In Washington, where Blackberries are everywhere, only 52 percent of
homes are connected to broadband. In total, more than 240,000 D.C.
residents are not connected to the Internet at home, and nearly 160,000
have no Internet access at all.

While there are no specific numbers that accurately capture the
digital divide in Los Angeles, nearly 16 million people across
California do not have high-speed Internet, according to the U.S.
Census Bureau.

The stories from both coasts are a testament to why our leaders in
Washington should make bridging the digital divide a national priority.

View all of the stories here.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.