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Left behind in Gig City? How Chattanooga is promoting digital inclusion



A 2015 study by a University of Tennessee economist found that Chattanooga's much heralded smart grid and citywide gigabit Internet service had resulted in at least 2,800 new jobs and added $865.3 million to the local economy. The figure was due to a reduction in power outages resulting in part from smart grid technologies provided by S&C Electric Co., plus better Internet services and attracting new businesses. But as you'll read below, today Chattanooga leaders are worried about the ramifications of a digital imbalance that leaves disadvantaged neighborhoods behind. – Philip Bane


"We can't have digital gated communities. The power of the web should be an equalizer, not something that creates greater inequity," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in a CNN piece last year.

In Chattanooga, Census figures indicate 22.5% of residents live in poverty and nearly 25,000 kids get free and reduced price lunches at school. And Pew Research Center says some 5,000 homes in the city with school-age children don't have high-speed Internet.

According to CNN and the Christian Science Monitor, Chattanooga has taken a number of steps to "close the homework gap" and get low-income families online. Among them:

  • Heavily discounted high-speed Internet for households with children receiving free or discounted school lunches
  • Tech Goes Home, a digital inclusion program, teaches low-income families basic Internet skills and provides $50 Chromebooks for students to use at home; a coding academy to teach adults new skills is in the works too
  • All 76 schools in the city and surrounding Hamilton County have Wi-Fi today
  • The public library has a lab with a 3D printer
  • Nearly 20,000 students have participated in the global Hour of Code program

Changing mindsets
Still, city leaders want to do more, it seems. They're looking to change mindsets and encourage young and old alike to embrace a new, digital future and new opportunities available to them. Or as the Christian Science Monitor explains it, city leaders want to spread the digital wealth.

And some are worried about what may happen if they don't.

“I don’t worry that [start-ups] are going to leave because they have capital opportunities elsewhere, or desires to be elsewhere from a quality-of-life standpoint," Mayor Berke said. "The reason that we worry about [start-ups] moving is that they won’t have the number of people that they need to service their businesses…. We want to be a city that solves those issues."

Related topics:
Closing the digital divide: Public housing goes gigabit
Survey spotlights families often left behind as technology advances
What a difference a laptop can make in a foster teen's life

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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