Kansas City to be part of digital divide pilot project

Federal officials today announced that Kansas City, 26 other cities and a tribal nation will be part of a demonstration project to close the digital divide.

Internet service providers, non-profits and the private sector will offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs and some tablets for residents in assisted housing.

Google fiber will provide broadband for free and other providers will do it at steep discounts like $10 a month, they said, and Best Buy will provide digital training services.

Julian Castro, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Jeff Zients, White House National Economic Council Director, made the announcement this morning in a national media call.

The effort called ConnectHome follows a federal effort that began in 2013 to get broadband into schools.

But about two thirds of the lowest income citizens do not have broadband at home, Castro said, because the average HUD household income is about $13,000 a year.

The program now does not call for providing digital devices other than some low-cost tablets, they said. About two thirds of low income people have computers, they said, but less than half have access at home.

Cities are not required to invest anything, and often the effort will be done through public housing groups like the Housing Authority of Greater Kansas City.

Edwin Lowndes, its executive director, issued a statement today: “We will focus on ways to bring affordable internet services to very low-income families in Kansas City and provide opportunities for these families to access 21st century technology in their homes.”

Mayor Sly James said in a statement, “Public housing residents are in dire need of connectivity and our participation in this initiative will give everyone the opportunity to succeed in Kansas City’s technological economy.”

Federal officials said that results of the demonstration project will be studied for possible expansion nationwide.

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