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Will Google Fiber Bridge San Antonio's Digital Divide?

Photo: Courtesy of the Open Technology Institute, License: N/A

Courtesy of the Open Technology Institute

The map reveals disparities in internet access along socio-economic and geographical lines


“One of the reasons why San Antonio has stood out as a potentially great partner is because the city has been thinking about fiber networks for a long time,” says Wandres. “Mayor Castro has stated publicly multiple times over past few years that he sees fiber as something essential for education and economic development.”

She adds, “There’s a great startup culture and lots of tech-savvy residents that would be excited about using a gigabit connection.”

However, as some community activists and public figures worry, it’s not necessarily those already plugged in to the tech world that should be the priority for Google or COSA—it’s those who have been left behind.

WiredLess

As part of the Media Action Grassroots Network, or MAGnet, a national coalition of more than 100 local media justice advocates, the Martinez Street Women’s Center teaches media literacy skills and promotes internet access to underserved communities on the East and Southeast Sides. When the nonprofit learned of San Antonio’s bid for Google Fiber, they saw in it a chance for the disconnected to finally reach digital equity.

“As a center, our mission and vision is to remove barriers to health care and quality education,” Andrea Figueroa of Martinez Street Women’s Center tells the Current during an interview at the center’s headquarters on South Hackberry. “We see online access to be one of those barriers to remove so that our community members can be on an equal playing field.”

As Figueroa points out, several of the households in her largely low-income, African-American and Latino community remain offline, mirroring broader demographics.

Since first examining the so-called digital divide in 2000, the Pew Internet Project discovered glaring differences between those who were online and those who weren’t. More than a decade later, they see similar results.

According to the 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project survey’s central findings, 70 percent of adults 18 and older have a high-speed broadband connection at home.

Those who speak Spanish as a primary language, adults with less than a high school education, those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year and senior citizens are the least likely to have internet access. Among these groups, broadband adoption levels are at 37 percent for adults who have not completed high school; 43 percent for seniors 65 years old and over and 54 percent for those who live in households earning less than $30,000 per year. Comparatively, broadband adoption figures rest at 89 percent for college graduates, 80 percent of adults under age 30 and 88 percent of those making at least $75,000 per year.

While Pew finds that age, household income and educational attainment are the most persistent indicators of internet use, race does play a factor. Despite recent gains in usage among African-Americans, of the American adults with high-speed internet access at home, minorities continue to be less likely than whites to have home broadband overall. Close to three-quarters of whites have access to high-speed internet at home, whereas less than two-thirds of African-Americans (64 percent) and just more than half of Hispanics (53 percent) claim home access.

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