Neighborhoods Still Working to Close Digital Gap
By Jeffrey Steele, Special to the Chicago Tribune, December 29, 2010
Programs in place, but chasm is wide
Although we are amid a digital revolution, digital connectedness is on the wish list of many residents in Chicago's low-income neighborhoods this holiday season.
Studies have shown that cost is a major barrier to Internet access, especially in the home. In Chicago, nearly 40 percent of residents do not have the broadband connections required to compete in the Digital Age.
"This is typical of what we see in low-income communities," said Karen Mossberger, professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who co-wrote the study "Digital Excellence in Chicago: A Citywide View of Technology Use."
"People have a little experience, perhaps in libraries or at community centers," Mossberger said. "But when it comes to being able to afford high-speed Internet access at home, and being able to use high-speed Internet at home, there are larger gaps."
About this time last year, Mayor Richard Daley announced the Smart Communities program, the goal of which is to increase broadband access in five digitally underserved neighborhoods: Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn and Englewood.
All of the neighborhoods are predominantly African-American or Hispanic. Both ethnic groups are more likely than whites to cite cost as the main reason for not being online, according to the study of Chicago's digital scene.
So far, Smart Communities has paid for computer training, the installation of kiosks that provide public Internet access in each neighborhood, and summer youth projects. There also are Web-based community portals in each of the neighborhoods that allow users to post their own content, such as job training resources.
In Humboldt Park, the Smart Communities project recently partnered with the nonprofit Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. and several civic groups. Mossberger's report found that residents in that neighborhood were less likely to go online to get information about health services, political candidates, public transit schedules and government services. Only in job hunts did Humboldt Park residents use the Internet as often as Chicagoans in general, her study found.
Originally published in the Chicago Tribune.