Internet Access Isn’t Just A Tech Issue. It’s A Civil Rights Issue. – Huffington Post

In Detroit, nearly 40 percent of residents have no Internet service, not even via smartphones. That abysmal rate was noted in a recent New York Times story detailing how lack of access has stymied economic recovery for some people.

Detroit resident Julie Rice told the paper about her struggle to network, complete training videos and fill out online job applications with her limited connectivity. 

“I’ve come to believe Internet is a human right,” Rice said. “It’s clearly a huge disadvantage if you don’t have it.”

Underscoring the importance of universal access, the Federal Communications Commission last year declared that broadband service is a public utility akin to electricity or telephone service.

In all but the most rural areas, the problem isn’t a lack of infrastructure, said Callahan. As with so many other civil rights issues, the problem is economics. 

“The idea that you can’t get Internet connection in a city because there’s no Internet available is almost never true,” he said. “People can get AT&T DSL in their homes any place in Detroit — they just can’t afford it.” 

Without the Internet, poor people can be stuck on the wrong side of the door to opportunity.

“The 40-year-old guy who can’t apply for a job now because he can’t get online would have no problem 10 years ago,” Callahan said. “He can still do the job. All that’s changed is the system to get the job.”

This hypothetical man all too often gets blamed for not being employed. Yet Callahan said, “This is not a failure on his part.”

Robert Shimkoski of the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, which helps connect jobseekers with employers in that city, said a lack of Internet access can trap low-income people in a vicious cycle. 

“It’s increasingly difficult to find an employer who will take a physical application over an online app,” Shimkoski said. “And if you can’t get online, you can’t get the resources to understand where you can go to get that connection to help.” 

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