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 downturn.

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.

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