Five most disconnected cities – and what to do about it.

Jonathan M. Rhodes Verge Internet New Orleans
five most disconnected cities

Five most disconnected cities – and what to do about it.

Being forced into a remote world during the pandemic, we now know the depth of our country’s digital divide. According to analysis of 2018 census data, 7 million households nationwide lack computers and 17 million lack high-speed internet. This figure includes one in three Black, Hispanic, and American Indian families being disconnected.

While the digital divide is a national problem, it has hit certain cities – and certain neighborhoods within those cities – especially hard. A review of 2020 Census data allows us to identify which cities, down to the census tract level, suffer from a digital divide. Recent studies by the National Digital Inclusion Association and American Community Survey highlight which cities are the worst connected in terms of access to wireline, mobile and other broadband services.

One thing these disconnected cities have in common is that they are majority-minority cities. Sadly, it’s not a surprise that cities with populations that have faced discrimination in the past suffer from digital inequity today. We scratched the surface of this topic in a previous blog post about the past and present of Digital Redlining in majority-black cities like New Orleans. Today, we’re looking a little more closely at some of the other disconnected cities according to the data.

We have nothing but love for these amazing cities that unfortunately find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. According to the American Community Survey, these cities had high percentages of their population without access to broadband connectivity of any kind. That’s the bad news. The good news is that these disconnected cities are taking meaningful action to build digital equity. Let’s have a look at the five most disconnected cities in the United States and what they are doing to bridge the digital divide.

#5 Detroit

Coming in as the fifth-worst-connected city, Detroit is working to leverage its community, industry and federal support to bridge the divide. The problem stems from the inability most to access affordable, high quality internet connectivity. For example, in Detroit over 46% of residents have no wireline access at home, and 24% of residents have no broadband at all, including mobile device connectivity. The problem significantly impacts learning, as the Urban Collaboratory at the University of Michigan reports that 70% of school-age children in Detroit don’t have access to Internet at home. But Detroit is taking action. The city has appropriated over $8 million for devices, Internet access, and digital literacy services and spearheads initiatives like Connect 313 to build public-private partnerships for digital equity.

#4 Memphis

Memphis is also working to bridge their digital divide for the over 46% of residents without wireline access, and the 26% without any broadband connectivity including mobile devices. The problem is even worse in neighborhoods like Washington Heights and South Memphis, where as many as 80% are without Internet. Memphis has been relying on low-cost plans from incumbent providers to help bridge the divide, and nonprofits are working to distribute devices.

#3 Newark

When the pandemic struck, Newark found itself in the unenviable position of having over 41% of residents without wireline connectivity at home, and over 28% without any broadband at all. The good news is that Newark has made major strides toward helping students get connected. The State worked together to supply over 350,000 laptops to students in need, including tens of thousands in Newark.

#2 Miami

Miami is known by many to be a first-class international city leading the way in technology and innovation. At the same time, the City of Miami finds over 38% of residents without wireline access and over 29% without access to any form of broadband. That said, Miami’s government, businesses, foundations and nonprofits have joined forces in a public-private partnership called Miami Connected to make Miami-Dade the most “digitally inclusive” region in the country.

#1 Cleveland

When a city like Cleveland suffers from both poverty and lack of Internet access, it is not surprising to find a wide digital divide. Cleveland ranks as the worst connected city with over 46% of residents having no wireline connectivity, and over 30% having no access to broadband. Thankfully, their nonprofit initiative DigitalC is out to close the gap and bring highspeed connectivity to all. Since 2016, DigitalC has invested more than $10 million to connect Greater Cleveland’s unserved and under-served with the goal of connecting 40,000 households to its internet service.

VERGE Internet is committed to helping communities bridge the digital divide so that all can have access to the benefits of highspeed Internet where they live, work and engage. We’ve set out a number of strategies in a previous blog post aimed at Five Strategies to Bridge the Digital Divide.

Contributors: Jonathan Rhodes and Christopher Wolff founded VERGE Internet to develop broadband and smart city solutions that promote digital equity and provide Internet for All. The views expressed in these blog posts are solely those of the contributors, aimed at fostering conversation and collaboration at the intersection of community and connectivity.

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