Too Poor to Afford the Internet

We have come to believe that all of us have access to the Internet. In New York, for example, children are still scrounging for a few bars of web access, dropped like crumbs from a table. The same is true in rural communities. With broadband costing on average $55 per month, 25 percent of all households and 50 percent of those making less than $20,000 lack this service at home.

All summer, kids have been hanging out in front of the Morris Park Library in the Bronx, before opening hours and after closing. Children sit outside of libraries and bring their computers to pick up the Wi-Fi signal that is leaking out of the building, because they can’t afford Internet access at home. They’re there during the school year, too, even during the winter — it’s the only way they can complete their online math homework.

People line up, sometimes for hours, to use the library system’s free computers. Go into any library in the nation and you’ll most likely see the same thing. They come to do what so many of us take for granted: apply for government services, study or do research, do homework, talk with family or friends, inform themselves as voters, and just participate in our society and culture — so much of which now takes place online. Our public libraries are charged with providing free access to information, and in recent years we have had to create new ways of doing that. Leaking broadband (frankly, accidentally) onto the branch stoops is not enough.

Yet we need help from more than libraries. No child can have equal access to education, or any worker equal access to a job, without access to the Internet and the digital training to use it skillfully. Our federal, state and local policies must recognize there can be no full equality without digital equality. We can also require the companies that reach millions of customers via city infrastructure to provide more affordable rates for low-income residents, and to ensure that broadband connections are provided to poor neighborhoods.

Research indicates that there is a direct correlation between poverty and dropping out of school. Shouldn’t our society provide access to the thing that so many of us take for granted – broadband access?