I’ve often shared information here that notes 40% of Detroit households have no access to internet, both broadband and cell phone access. In a city that faces countless issues with connectivity and communicating with pockets of people spread across a large area, there is great potential for internet to bring Detroit together, improve communications, and equalize access – jobs, education, resources, etc.
The latest numbers from the 2014 American Community Survey show Detroit has 95,825 households or 37% of all Detroit households have no internet access. The city sadly ranks #2 nationally for cities with over 50,000 households. The logical next step in saying that 37% of Detroit households have no internet is to then ask where are those households located? Who is impacted?
From the above map you can see the obvious outline of Detroit with low broadband internet access. Downtown, Boston-Edison, Grandmont-Rosedale, Palmer Woods, and a handful of other ‘higher’ income areas on the website have greater internet access. The Improve Detroit app submissions are clustered in areas with more internet, but you can see people are reporting from across the entire city.
Broadband access in Detroit and the metro region maps on perfectly with the region’s socioeconomic geography. The FCC recently visit Detroit to talk about the digital divide and noted that 38% of Detroit households don’t have broadband, but also for low-income households no broadband reaches 63%. The surrounding Detroit suburbs have significantly higher broadband rates. Pew Internet Research found that a growing majority of internet users access the web via their phones (31%). Pew also noted that young adults and non-whites are more likely to access the internet on their phones with 45% of 18-29 year olds and 51% of African Americans. They’ve also found that young adults, minorities, and those with no college experience, and lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to use their phone as their primary access point to the internet.
All of this information points to the great potential of breaking down the digital divide in Detroit and other cities with low internet access. The Open Technology Institute drafted a Methodology for Identifying and Addressing Urban Areas with Low Broadband Adoption based on work being done in Detroit with mesh networks. The Detroit Community Technology Project of the Detroit Digital Stewards has been building wifi mesh networks within communities and other groups are trying to bring more fiber networks to the city. The important part will be building inclusive internet infrastructure networks. Water is a human right and so should access to information!
There were 19,590 submissions to the Improve Detroit smartphone app between December 2014 – October 2015. While I don’t believe that smartphones are the only answer to better communications in cities facing major hurdles in access, poverty, and inequality, the results in Detroit are promising where users have been able to submit issues from across the city 70% via the smartphone app.