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Digital Divide Still Present in Washington, D.C., Broadband Map Shows

New mayor Vincent Gray says he’s committed to bridging Washington, D.C’s digital divide.

Washington, D.C., continues to deal with a “stark digital divide” within the city, a problem highlighted again in a broadband adoption map released Wednesday, March 9.

The online map found that the average broadband wireline adoption rate for Washington, D.C’s population in 2009 was 65.3 percent.

But broadband adoption continues to vary widely among Washington, D.C.’s eight wards. Officials said Wednesday that many neighborhoods in Wards 5, 7 and 8 — which are less affluent — have broadband adoption rates below 40 percent, the federal government’s threshold for what defines an “underserved” community. In the other wards — affluent neighborhoods — have adoption rates of 80 percent or more.

The finding dovetails with broadband data collected in 2009 by former mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration.

The map announced Wednesday was developed by the district’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) through economic stimulus funding. The map data was included in a national map of broadband adoption and speeds released last month by the federal government. The GIS-based map is interactive and plots the district’s 250 free Wi-Fi hot spots, the locations where free computer and Internet access is available, as well as residential broadband adoption rates reported by each U.S. Census tract.

New mayor Vincent Gray and his administration affirmed their commitment to solving Washington, D.C.’s digital divide. Federal funding from the stimulus is aiding the effort.

Last year the district received a $4.2 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), coupled with $1.5 million in matching funds, to put toward an Internet and computer skills education program offered at Washington, D.C.’s public libraries and community college campuses. The program is targeting underserved individuals, including low-income residents, seniors and residents who speak English as a second language. The six-month classes, called DC Broadband Education, Training and Adoption (DC-BETA) will continue for the next two years.

Beyond this education component, two other grants awarded earlier by the NTIA address the cost and public availability of broadband. A $17.4 million grant is extending the district’s high-speed fiber-optic network, called DC-Net, which is currently available to schools, libraries, public housing and other institutions. Another $1.5 million grant to Washington D.C.’s public libraries is funding expanded computer learning centers and training, and one-gigabit anchor connections.

“Bridging the digital divide means ensuring that people have access to computers, know how to use them, and have high-speed Internet access — at public venues, at work, and at home,” Interim CTO Rob Mancini said on Wednesday in a statement. “With the support of our federal grants, we’re working on all these fronts. Our new broadband map is an important milestone in our work, as well as an important contribution to the national mapping effort.”


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.