Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia have been holding a series of peer Rustbelt city meetings to exchange information on community and economic development strategies. The May 15 topic was Broadband and Digital Technology: Infrastructure of the Future. They wanted to expand the conversation to include a Sunbelt city, so Charlotte joined the rustbelt series this month.
Leaders from each city attended a videoconference focusing on broadband and digital access —the so-called “new infrastructure”—as an economic development tool and community builder. The discussion on economic development included financing models, public-private partnerships, and what has/hasn’t worked in each city. Community development discussion included the goals of each city, strategies being used, and how broadband can serve as a community builder.
Bill Callahan, Director of Connect your Community 2.0, summarized a presentation on the broadband divide in Cleveland, and how it is correlated to income levels. Detroit and Cleveland were the two worst-connected cities in the report, each having less than 50% of households with fixed broadband subscriptions. For comparison Charlotte has roughly 80% of households with fixed broadband subscriptions (data from 2013 U.S. Census Bureau).
Charlotte meeting participants included the City of Charlotte, Knight Foundation, Foundation for the Carolinas. CPCC, Charlotte Housing Authority, Queens University, Media Democracy Fund, CMS, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and Charlotte Hearts Gigabit. Charlotte is the only one of the cities in this conference to be a Google Fiber city, and our conversations have moved past the point of if we were getting broadband infrastructure, to how we will use the infrastructure for maximum benefit.
Charlotte shared our Digital Inclusion efforts and the bi-weekly city steering committee meetings focusing on the initiative (note: Charlotte Hearts Gigabit is on the steering committee). As we’ve heard from Kansas City, a successful Internet economy is 90% sociology and 10% technology. High speed fiber cannot reach its full potential if large segments of society are excluded from its benefits.
We were pleased to be included in the cross-city conference on broadband, and sharing our efforts on digital inclusion. Look for more updates on this important initiative as the months unfold.
Note: After this event was held, Google Fiber and NTEN announced $1M in funding to support Digital Inclusion Fellowship positions in 8 cities. In Charlotte they announced funding for two positions; one position for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and one position for the Urban League of Central Carolinas.