Every resident in every community should have reliable and affordable access to broadband. However, millions of Americans continue to face insurmountable obstacles that prevent meaningful participation in a digital society. On November 9, 2020, Next Century Cities Executive Director, Francella Ochillo, made a presentation, The Digital Divide and Its Profound Impact on Privacy, Future of Work, and Gaps in Wealth, at the Merit Network’s 2020 Broadband Summit. Her remarks explored the societal cost of the digital divide and its far-reaching consequences when millions of Americans remain locked out of digital opportunities.

Connectivity statistics in Michigan help illustrate how income and the digital divide intersect. 

  • Isabella County (mid-Michigan): 23.4% of households live in poverty and 26.7% of households do not have a broadband internet subscription. 
  • Lake County (northern Michigan): 22.3% of households live in poverty. Less than 3% of the population has access to 25/3 Mbps speeds.
  • Wayne County (southeast Michigan): 21.7% of households live in poverty. It is home to Detroit where the median household income is $31K, approximately half the median income nationwide. It is also home to Hamtramck, is one of only three towns in the U.S. where over half of the population lives below the poverty line. 

The cyclone of how gaps in digital access can compromise rights to privacy, participation in a digital workforce, and economic opportunities has a ripple effect on communities. For instance, privacy concerns have become increasingly more serious when public Wi-Fi networks are filling in gaps for home broadband access but provide users with little-to-no control of third-party access to personal information being transmitted online. Those with unreliable connectivity may not have the requisite digital literacy to manage privacy concerns, let alone the resources for skills training that would attract high-tech job opportunities. Further, limited economic mobility and cycles of poverty only make it more difficult to maintain broadband subscriptions and access to digital tools. 

Next Century Cities works to bring broadband within reach for every resident in every community. The Merit Network and its Michigan Moonshot initiative is a great example of how community leaders are coming together to generate much-needed connectivity solutions. Read more about the Michigan’s Moonshot here. Click here to review Francella’s presentation.