KC Currents
2:32 pm
Wed September 12, 2012

Bridging The Digital Divide In Kansas City

Studies from Google indicated that 42 percent of lower income areas in Kansas City don’t have access to internet.

Google Fiber has plans to address that with super high-speed internet service, but there have been challenges to linking the information superhighway to poor communities. Being disconnected from the internet’s wide world of information leaves many urban residents, students and job seekers far behind their more affluent neighbors.

KC Currents host Susan Wilson invited these panelists into the studio for a roundtable discussion on the digital divide in our area.

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, Deputy Executive Director of the Kansas City Public Library

Michael Liimatta, co-founder of Connecting for Good  

Donovan Mouton, a local real estate developer, former Program Director at One Economy Corporation

Highlights

Internet Access Points, The Gap Between The ‘Haves And Have Nots’
Donovan Mouton: “The internet provides information, and information is like oxygen for people…It’s the gateway to education, economic development, jobs and healthcare.  All kinds of other resources, that if we can provide that to low income households, that gives them a foothold in being on the same pedestal as other individuals who already get it.”

Michael Liimatta: “I think that the problem we have in this city is what I would call digital black holes. If you look along State Line and some of the more affluent areas, I mean people are living what I would call a digital lifestyle…When we talk about Google Fiber being a hundred times faster than what’s available now, I’m afraid that unless a lot of things happen proactively, the digital divide is going to be a hundred times bigger. And that disparity between the ‘haves and have nots’ is going to be worse.  I really equate connectivity with opportunity.”

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner: “Libraries have always been the technology access points for those people who do not have internet access at home or computers…Also a number of our libraries are in the underserved areas of Kansas City.  And you can tell that we are the only, only, access points for those people who don’t have internet access at home.”

Hardware And Digital Literacy
Donovan Mouton: “If you solve either of these particular barriers -- access or hardware -- if you solve the access issue that makes it affordable for low income households to either have free or affordable access, they find a way to get the hardware, or vice versa.”

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner: “I originally come from Kenya.  And the way people use their cellphones in the rest of the world is phenomenal. In Kenya for instance, almost everybody I see has a cellphone, they can send money, they can receive money, they can get healthcare information, they can do so many things with that, and it’s only a matter of time before we as the U.S. get to that point where the primary device is not the desktop."

Access For Every Neighborhood Despite Barriers: Education And Outreach
Michael Liimatta: “The take that I have on the situation with the Troost dividing line, is that it’s no surprise whatsoever to us… But the question is you know, what will we do?  To me it emphasizes again how much more effort has to be put out, how much more education and outreach has to happen.”

Cheptoo Kositany Buckner, “And I would comment that when Google came on board, the first initial meetings Google said what we are providing you is the infrastructure; it’s up to the community to figure out..”

Donovan Mouton: “Troost has been persistent, so I would not fault Google for that. We know our community best, the public sector was a very willing partner in this whole initiative. They were the ones who sponsored the application.  So I guess in some ways I’m saying the public sector in terms of our governments should have been on the forefront of making sure that Google was aware of the history, in coming up with early solutions to deal with it.”

Cheptoo Kositany Buckner: “I also think that none of us or even the community or Google had enough time to educate people about how to actually do this.  When we heard Google was going to come, we as a library reached out to Google. Because we knew how important it was to the community.”

Michael Liimatta: “And I think that’s the key to the whole thing.  Nothing like this has ever been done before.  And even the executives and leadership at Google are kind of flying by the seat of their pants as this thing is moving forward.  And I think the whole idea is for community leaders and activists to stay on top of this to make sure that our voice is heard and that we are engaged in the ways that our needs are going to be met.”

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents podcast.