The Digital Divide is Holding Young New Yorkers Back

Sep 18, 2013Nell Abernathy

New York City public school students in lower-income neighborhoods suffer from very slow Internet speeds. Our next mayor can help.

It's clear that the Internet is a vitally important resource for education, innovation, and opportunity. And we know that 21st century kids need it to write papers, apply to colleges, and find jobs (not just to watch videos of kittens playing with string).

Sadly, young New Yorkers have unequal access to the Internet. 75 percent of the city's public schools have Internet speeds of 10 Mbps or slower. When shared with a large number of users, these speeds preclude heavy research downloads, e-reader usage, and educational video-streaming resources. They are also 100 times slower than the target President Obama set for 2020 in the National Broadband Plan.

The red dots in the following graph show that about 18 percent of New York City public schools have networks even slower than 10 Mbps (218 with Internet speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less, and three with 5 Mbps speed). The graph is courtesy of an August report commissioned by Manhattan Bourough President and Comptroller Candidate Scott Stringer.

Unsurprisingly, the public schools with the slowest Internet speeds tend to be in the lowest-income neighborhoods, like the South Bronx and Northeastern Brooklyn, and those with faster speeds tend to be in median- and high-income neighborhoods in Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford was quoted in the Stringer report, reminding us that "[t]ruly high speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago.”

For a city at the center of our country's innovation, economic growth, and social communication, inferior Internet speeds at New York's low-income public schools are a clear example of the inequality problem. Luckily, we have clear models for solving this particular public policy challenge. D.C., for example, has invested in delivering an affordable broadband network to 250 public institutions, like libraries, schools, and community centers. Kansas City, in partnership with Google, is offering every household access to 1 GB (1,000 Mbps) fiber networks at subsized rates. What will our next mayor do?

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

Share This