June 22, 2012
Jason Harper, The Kansas City Public Library
Google and MBIT Release Digital Divide Report for Kansas City
How big is the digital divide in Kansas City? According to a report released this morning by Google and the Mayors Bi-State Innovation Team, 25 percent of Kansas Citians don't have broadband access, and 17 percent have no internet access at all.
For a city that's about to get the first 1GB Google Fiber network, that's a gap that needs to be closed – lest this influx of powerful new technology cause it to widen.
Since the Kansas Cities were chosen as Google's first Fiber market, both Google and the cities' leaders have been indicating that the digital divide is of serious concern.
This morning, Google and MBIT made their first big move in actively addressing the digital divide by releasing the report, "The State of Internet Connectivity in KC: Neighborhood-based Research Findings."
Released this morning at a digital inclusion forum at the Kansas City Public Library, the report is the result of a phone survey of 3,219 people conducted by Google and its local PR firm Global Prairie. It shows a detailed overview of which neighborhoods in KCMO and KCK lack internet access, to what degree, and most interestingly of all, what those unconnected citizens' attitudes are toward connectivity.
As Google spokesman Kevin Lo explained, that attitude is one of viewing the Internet as a luxury rather than a necessity. "A lot of people [in KC] don't get online even though they believe it's good," said Lo.
The problem: they don't see the Internet as relevant to their daily lives.
According to the survey, of the 17 percent of Kansas Citians who don't use the internet, many do not feel that their lack of connectivity puts them at a disadvantage in major quality-of-life areas such as getting health information, accessing government services, learning new things, and keeping up with local and national news.
The one possible exception was job hunting, with (a still-low) 41 percent of the unconnected feeling that not having an internet put them at a disadvantage in that arena.
So how do we make the Internet relevant to the everyday lives of unconnected people in Kansas City?
The Google/MBIT report proposes three main steps:
- Provide easy introduction to the Internet by providing easy access at home or in public spaces (such as schools and libraries) and also providing simple and intuitive literacy training.
- Show clear benefits to pressing needs by demonstrating real-world applications for how the Internet can make people's lives better.
- Build excitement for Internet use by linking connectivity to things people are passionate about and already value.
In short, the challenge is not only to provide access and training to citizens across the divide but to inspire them to use the Internet in meaningful ways.
This "Google moment" is an exciting time in Kansas City. But if all citizens aren't allowed to share in that excitement, what do we gain as a community?