Google Fiber and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are partnering in a public-private collaboration, ConnectHome, to provide families and children living in HUD-assisted housing with broadband, or high-speed Internet. Increasing Internet speeds in low-income communities will increase access to the resources and services, such as educational tools, employment opportunities, and healthcare services, available on the Internet. The following facts present a snapshot of the current digital divide in the United States.
- Fact # 1: 1 out of 4 households lacks high-speed Internet
- Fact # 2: Only 47 percent of households with incomes under $25,000 have high-speed Internet while 92 percent of households with incomes greater than $100,000 have high-speed Internet.
- Fact # 3: While 91 percent of households with college graduates have high-speed Internet, only 53 percent of households without high school diplomas have high-speed Internet.
- Fact #4: Regardless of access to high-speed Internet, over 60 million Americans lack the digital literacy skills to take advantage of the resources found on the Internet.
ConnectHome will provide gigabit speed to thousands of families in HUD-assisted housing beginning in Kansas then expanding to an additional 27 communities including Atlanta, Durham, San Antonio, and Nashville. Gigabit speed provides a connection that reaches 1,000 megabits per second which converts to 125 megabytes per second. In contrast, according to the State of the Internet report published by Akami, the average connection speed in the United States sits under 12 megabytes per second.
What does all that mean? It means that ConnectHome will provide these families and children with Internet speeds 10x faster than the average rate in the US. Gigabit speed means that transferring a gigabyte of data will only take 8 seconds. Transferring a gigabyte of data on average in the US takes 80 seconds. One gigabyte could consist of 18,000 word documents or 230 songs.
In addition to providing faster Internet speeds, the ConnectHome collaboration will partner with nonprofits and community groups to provide computer skills training. With faster Internet speeds, computer labs, and digital literacy classes, ConnectHome is working to close the digital divide to ensure that families and children in public housing are in a better position to take advantage of high-speed Internet.
High-speed Internet has potential as a tool for economic development (more in this blog post) and municipalities such as Wilson, NC even make large public investments by providing Internet throughout the community and treating it as a utility (more in this blog post). The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation reports that for every $5 million dollar investment in broadband Internet, 250 jobs are created.
HUD is also beginning to discuss a potential rule to require all HUD-funded new residential construction as well as larger rehabilitation projects to provide broadband Internet. With this move and ConnectHome collaboration, HUD is taking critical steps to bridging the digital divide by providing free high-speed Internet to families and children living in HUD-assisted housing.
Omar Kashef is a second-year graduate student seeking a dual-degree in Public Administration and Information Science and is currently a Fellow with the Development Finance Initiative.