I had the opportunity to participate in the launch of the
City Digital Inclusion Fund. It addresses the thorny problem of bringing
the 25 percent or so of people in the city who are still not participating in
the information age to inclusion.
I say thorny because despite the nearly $300 million in
stimulus funding awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband
Technology Opportunities Program to address the digital divide, one in five
American adults still do not use the Internet. The Pew Research Center's
Internet & American Life Project reports that the main
reason they don’t go online is because they don’t think the Internet is
relevant to them. Pew reports that the groups least likely to want to use the
Internet are senior citizens, disabled people, monolingual Spanish speakers,
adults with less than a high school education, and those living in households
earning less than $30,000 per year.
One element is an infrastructure project installing fiber optical
cabling to homes, schools and businesses and gigabit (ultra-fast) Internet,
sponsored by Google. Google Fiber is
roughly 100 times faster than ordinary broadband, but costs about the same or
somewhat less. The
service provides TV broadband and Internet that is comparable with cable
offers. Google plans to roll it out in Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah as well. The
broadband company, CenturyLink,
is also building a gigabit fiber network in Omaha, so this is definitely a
One concern about the rollout of ultra-fast
Internet in Kansas City is that the poorer parts of city have had
trouble qualifying for installation due to low demand in those areas - hence
the new Digital
Inclusion Fund. The fund is being administrated by
the Greater Kansas City
Community Foundation. Founding donors to the fund include Google
Fiber, the Illig Family Foundation, Sprint,
and J.E. Dunn
The fund aims to work with the 25 percent of Kansas City residents who
don’t have broadband Internet at home, and 17 percent don’t use the Internet at
all. The idea is to engage these residents and wherever possible to teach them
how to use digital devices, provide Internet access through computer labs or
classes, and provide them with very low-cost home computers. The fund will rely
on local nonprofits to figure
what the right solutions are for this specific region.
The Kansas City Public Library
System will also have a role in this work. Library director, Crosby Kemper,
envisions expanding library services further into public housing and community
centers. He’s a very impressive guy.
spent some time in Kansas City last week I can say that I felt how energized
the place is to be the first chosen to showcase a ultra-high-speed Internet.
Kansas City is a classic Midwestern city that has endured a population decline in the latter part of the 20th century and is
fervently reinventing itself. It is the largest city in Missouri and since 2000 has been growing
people from charities that I met were certainly determined to take on the
thorny problem of bringing the 25 percent of people in the city who are still
not participating in the information age to inclusion. I have to particularly
note the spirited people at a new computer refurbishment center called Connecting for Good, which is at the
heart of this effort. Find founder and president Michael Liimatta’s statement
of purpose in the Kansas City Star here.
Another demonstration of city’s reinvention is Kansas City
headquartered Kauffman Foundation’s
rapidly growing 1 Million Cups Program,
which is a major big deal there. Each week hundreds of people go to the
foundation auditorium on Rockhill Road to attend a morning program in which two
local commercial or nonprofit entrepreneurs present their startups to an
audience of other entrepreneurs. After the presentations all the entrepreneurs
in audience set upon each other with their own funding pitches. One guy energetically
pitched me on a new method for cattle production.
It’s going to be a hard slog to figure out how to sell the
relevancy of the Internet to that last quarter of our population that is immune
to the information age, but if I were a betting man, I’d place a bet on Kansas
City to find a way to do it.
Image: City of Kansas City
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