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Closing the Digital Divide with Broadband in Minneapolis

July 5, 2018

By Lizzie Hutchins, CTEP AmeriCorps member at Film North in St. Paul

What would our city look like if we all had access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet, and how can we get there? It seems like it should be an easy question to answer, but our interviews with community members and policy makers pointed out how intentional we need to be in order to provide a good answer.

Through our research into inequitable access to affordable fiber internet in Minneapolis, we have found that lower income communities, particularly communities of color, often have fewer options for internet at affordable prices. US Internet (USI) currently offers the lowest prices for fiber internet in the city, markedly lower than CenturyLink and Xfinity/Comcast but is currently only available in some of the city's wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods in South and Southwest. While broadband internet can be accessed across the city, large cable companies' duopoly keeps speeds slower and priced higher for most residents.

The goals of our research were to find the reasons for this inequity and to propose possible solutions, including policy actions the city or state could take, community organizing around this issue, and recommendations for internet service providers. Some solutions include:

  • Municipally owned dark fiber or conduit that is leased to private provider
  • Municipally owned & operated fiber internet
  • Incentives for private providers to expand & upgrade current fiber networks

We wrote a report outlining the key issues stakeholders should pay attention to, including net neutrality and policy making on the local level. For example, Policy 50 within the City of Minneapolis' new Comprehensive Plan states that Minneapolis seeks to "ensure residents have the technology tools and skills needed to fully participate in the economy and civic life.” But what will the city actually do? Moving forward, we hope to see to see this project provide a starting point for policy action around internet equity in the city. We also hope to screen a video we have made to bring awareness to the issue.  

“Meeting with these officials in city governments who are informing policies – and understanding just how accessible they are – has been an empowering experience.” – David Munkvold.

Additional Resources

 


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CTEP Civic Engagement Project: Broadband in Minneapolis: Closing the Digital Divide
Project Members: Katie Ward, Gus Leinbach, David Munkvold, Kaitlyn Schmaltz, and Lizzie Hutchins.
Project Interviewees: Many community members, business owners and policy makers

Each year our 35 CTEP AmeriCorps members choose community action projects that make a contribution to bridging the digital divide. The CTEP civic engagement projects are often cited by CTEP AmeriCorps members, staff, supervisors, and community supporters as one of the most unique and energizing parts of the program. This is one of several the 2018 civic engagement projects.