On Friday, the Texan noted a report published by the University and the city of Austin that examined Internet usage across demographic cleavages in Austin. Unsurprisingly, it found that Internet usage is ubiquitous among the young and largely affluent communities that comprise the 40 Acres. However, the report also found many without this connection.
According to the report, only 80 percent of African-American residents in Austin had home access to the Internet, down from the more than 94 percent of Caucasians with a connection. Older, poorer and less educated Austinites were also significantly less likely to have any type of technological connection in the home, with a strong majority of them attributing their lack of Internet to financial constraints.
All too often, the gap in this city between the haves and the have-nots has been ignored by policymakers and voters alike. This was put on full display last November, when the mayoral election results by precinct split right down Interstate 35, the traditional dividing line between white Austin and black and Hispanic Austin; unsurprisingly, these latter neighborhoods were among the most likely to have lower rates of internet connection.
Austin has been the focus of much national attention for its pioneer role in Google Fiber, the lightning-fast broadband service slowly expanding throughout the country. Google Fiber, we have been told repeatedly, is the future of our relationship with the Internet and will revolutionize our connections. However, this revolution will only be open to those affluent enough to afford the high-dollar prices that come with it.
The fastest Internet through Google Fiber is $70 a month. And while a comparably slower internet connection offered through the service is free, there is a one-time $300 installation fee that serves as a huge barrier to entry, namely for that sizable minority of Austin still without any type of connection to the Internet. (Admittedly, the company is currently waiving the installation fee for a one-year commitment.)
Basic needs have changed since the 1950s. Having a computer with a connection to the Internet is not a luxury signaling opulence; rather, it is a bare necessity for someone who wishes to maintain a modicum of competitiveness in an increasingly technological workforce. Internet access is a public right and, just as we attempt to guarantee lighting and power to all our residents, we need to do the same with these connections. Faster and faster connections for the rich might be fun, but Austin needs to be responsible and ensure the entire city gets taken care of, not just a privileged few.