Getting Connected: Cities Struggle with Broadband Equity

City leaders nationwide fight to close the gap between Internet haves and have-nots.

by / September 28, 2015

In November, the city of Los Angeles will review the results from a “request for participants” that seeks companies willing to build wired and wireless broadband networks spanning the nation’s second-largest municipality.

To entice bidders — which will be required to provide some level of free Internet service to the public — the city is offering low-cost access to existing fiber, as well as to infrastructure like light poles and storm drains. It’s also creating a Digital Infrastructure Permitting Group that will expedite permit applications associated with constructing the new networks.

For Los Angeles city leaders, the project is a crucial step in closing the gap between Internet haves and have-nots.

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“Almost a third of our city does not have broadband Internet access,” said CIO Ted Ross, at Government Technology’s Los Angeles Digital Government Summit in August. “Which means two-thirds of the city progresses — their students have ample access to the Internet, they can use it for their businesses and even just entertain themselves — the other third is not being included.”

Broadband equity isn’t just L.A.’s problem; it’s an issue for Chicago, Baltimore and other big cities too. Good service may be available, but it’s unaffordable for too many individuals and families. City leaders around the nation are searching for ways to bridge the gap.

At a more basic level, rural areas of the country still struggle to get any high-speed connectivity at all. The FCC recently estimated that about half of residents living in rural America simply can’t get the advanced broadband service that many of us in metropolitan areas take for granted.

Here, too, officials are looking for ways to expand crucial connectivity. Kentucky, for instance, recently kicked off a $324 million public-private initiative to spread high-speed Internet across the state, which currently ranks 47th in broadband availability.

Announcing the project last year, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear called high-speed connectivity “as essential to a community as water or electricity” — and he’s right. Given how important fast and affordable Internet access is to our economic success, educational achievement and overall quality of life, it’s tragic that so many Americans still lack a good connection to the online world.

In this issue, we ask experts from government, the private sector and nonprofits how to eliminate the broadband gap. Answering that question is both a matter of fairness and a key to our future success. 
Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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