Local conference seeks ways to bridge state’s digital divide
Close to 1.4 billion: That’s how many YouTube hits the music video “Gangnam Style” by South Korean performer PSY has generated on the video-sharing website.
Of course, to watch PSY’s giddy-up dance moves or to apply for a job
online, you need Internet access, something tens of thousands of people in Washington don’t have.
An upcoming conference will explore ways to change that. The Digital Inclusion Summit 2013 will take place Thurs., March 14 at South Seattle Community College.
David Keyes, community technology program manager for the city, said attendees will ask themselves, “How do we leverage the skills and intellect in Washington to address [access for] homeless people, people with disabilities and improve equity?”
A public-private effort , the summit will provide an opportunity for groups including the city of Seattle, University of Washington (UW) Information School, the Seattle Public Library, the YMCA and Comcast to survey the state’s digital landscape
Keyes said the summit arrives at a critical time, as mobile technology continues to grow and federal stimulus programs to increase broadband use dry up.
By some counts, Washington state is doing relatively well. The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau found that 83.6 percent of Washingtonians live in households with Internet access, the third-highest in the nation.
By contrast, the Pew Internet and American Life Project determined in 2010 that only 66 percent of people nationwide have Internet access.
In Seattle, a 2009 survey focused on technology found that 83 percent of city residents had some form of Internet access, Keyes said. But there were lower percentages for low-income people, people of color and residents with low English proficiency.
Results of a new technology survey will be available in the summer.
But even with Washington’s top three ranking, the 2012 Annual Report on Broadband reveals that .1 percent of the population, or approximately 69,000 people, lack any access to a broadband provider. Most of them live in rural communities, such as Ferry County in northeastern Washington, where
77 percent of households do not have a broadband provider.
This puts them at a disadvantage, because a lack of Internet access can affect employment opportunities. Smartphones could pose a solution, but it may be difficult to fill out a job application on a smartphone. This might be particularly important for low-income people and people of color, since the Pew report found that between 2009 and 2012 mobile phones increased Web access for these groups.
Keyes said the city has online job application forms, and he hopes that everyone will be able to access them.
“We want to be sure that people can find those jobs and apply for them,” he said.
To help lay the groundwork for faster and better Internet access, Mayor Mike McGinn in December announced that the city, UW and broadband developer Gigabit Squared planned to develop a $200 million ultra-high speed fiber broadband network. Gigabit Squared plans to roll out the network by the end of the year in 12 neighborhoods — including parts of the UW campus, the Central District, Northgate, Mount Baker and Rainier Beach — and encompass 50,000 households.
Everyone has a stake in digital inclusion, Keyes said, and the summit hopes to welcome not only developers and city planners, but concerned citizens as well.
Keyes said including many types of people in the discussion could mean a new idea might arise from an unexpected source. After all, he said, a homeless person could provide information needed to develop the next important mobile app.
“It’s really important to have that diversity,” he said.
Scholarships are available for potential attendees to offset the $50 registration fee.
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