City officials say there’s a large number of people without broadband internet access, but a potential Microsoft partnership could address it.
The contrast between people with internet access is called the digital divide, and the Brookings Institute found more than 200,000 Louisville residents live with low broadband subscription rates.
Raamel Mitchell, Microsoft’s director for citizenship, said the company will help by partnering with the city and with organizations like the Ali Center to provide programs and initiatives about digital connectivity.
“Access to technology, access to broadband, access to being connected to the internet and everything else, is going to be more critical today and tomorrow than what it ever has been,” Mitchell said. “So the entire city of Louisville, the entire state of Kentucky, thinking about that is really going to be critical for future economic development and even educational success.”
One such initiative called AirBand provides broadband access to rural communities in the U.S. Other programs stress the importance of digital connectivity and building digital skills.
Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, said Louisville’s challenge is to gather more subscriptions in areas of “concentrated digital distress” where fewer than 40 percent of residents subscribe to the internet. Tomer said some of those residents may not see the importance of subscribing to broadband internet, or can’t afford it.
“Those are the kind of households or neighborhoods where we’re really concerned about the children that are school-age there,” Tomer said. “You can’t file your taxes on your smart device. It’s really hard to look for a job, it’s certainly hard to write out a resume. And then for kids, it’s really, really hard to do their homework.”
Tomer said Louisville could begin addressing the problem by campaigning and spreading awareness about it.
Grace Simrall, the city’s chief innovation officer, said the city is still exploring a partnership with Microsoft and other organizations to address the digital divide. Simrall said addressing the issue would “not necessarily” include funding in Metro Council’s upcoming budget, but she said the city would review changing laws to make it easier to spread broadband internet.
For example, Simrall said streamlining permitting to a census block instead of an intersection, and expanding a program that connects Metro government facilities to the internet, could make Louisville more attractive to businesses and partners that could address the city’s digital divide.
“Before, there was really a difference between cable and telecommunications. But at this point, the lines are really blurry,” Simrall said. “Our residents and our businesses in our community just want the internet. They don’t necessarily care how or what vehicle they get their internet, they just want it.”