Forum Institutional

How community run internet is bridging the digital divide in Detroit

digital divide internet access detroi united states home equitable wireless access education parity inclusion government broadband smartphone

With internet access so scarce in Detroit, residents are taking matters into their own hands. Image: Unsplash/Doug Zuba

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Forum Institutional?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Digital Communications is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Digital Communications

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • Residents in Detroit are being recruited as digital stewards to install and maintain a local internet network.
  • Around 40% of the city’s homes have no internet connection.
  • In developing countries, around 3.6 billion people have no access to the internet.

Millions of us take internet access for granted, especially in the developed world. But cost and location can be big barriers to getting online. In Detroit in the United States, for example, around four in ten residents don’t have internet access at home.

Now neighbourhoods in the city are building their own internet. People are being trained as “digital stewards'' with responsibility for setting up and installing wireless access points. They also educate people on how to use the internet.

The Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), which runs the project, says Detroit has been one of America’s worst connected cities since 2015.

Detroit’s average household income is $26,249 per year, and 38% of homes have no internet connection, the initiative explains. More than 60% of low-income homes have no in-home broadband, and 70% of school-age children have no internet access at home.

Have you read?

EII says its digital stewards “come from the neighbourhoods they work in, are Black and other people of colour, and range in age from elders to teens.”

The initiative has built and maintained a high-speed internet network across large areas of Detroit over the last six years. Priority is given to homes with no existing connection and those with low-speed internet. Other priority homes include those of students, elderly people or families receiving government assistance.

Affordable internet

The cost of internet access and devices is a major contributor to America’s ‘digital divide.’

digital divide internet access detroi united states home equitable wireless access education parity inclusion government broadband smartphone
A survey by Pew Research Center illustrates the digital divide in the United States. Image: Pew Research Center/Statista

One recent study by Pew Research Center found about a quarter of adults – 24% – with annual household incomes below $30,000 don’t own a smartphone. More than 40% don’t have either home broadband or a desktop or laptop computer.

Discover

EDISON Alliance: What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

The not-so world wide web

Globally, around 3.6 billion people in developing countries don’t have access to the internet, according to the Brookings Institution report, Bridging the Digital Divide.

digital divide internet access detroi united states home equitable wireless access education parity inclusion government broadband smartphone
The highest level of internet access is found in North America. Image: World Bank World Development Indicators (2020)

The same report finds that around 327 million fewer women have a smartphone to give them access to the mobile internet.

Other affordable internet projects include the Microsoft Airband Initiative. This was launched in 2017 to bring broadband access to 3 million people in unserved rural areas of the US by 2022. This year it was expanded to US cities where racial and ethnic minorities face large broadband gaps, including Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis. Microsoft is also working with partners delivering affordable broadband to countries including Ghana, India and Kenya.

In Africa, Smart Africa is a commitment by African countries representing more than 700 million people to accelerate development through affordable broadband access and technologies.

And the Giga project aims to bring internet connectivity to every school in the world. It is a partnership between UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is the UN agency for information and communication technologies. Around two-thirds of the world’s school-age children – 1.3 billion – don’t have an internet connection in their homes, UNICEF says.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

From 'Quit-Tok' to proximity bias, here are 11 buzzwords from the world of hybrid work

Kate Whiting

April 17, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum