The small city of Lake Worth, Florida, may undertake a free Wi-Fi project in order to boost economic development and ensure Internet access for all residents. The local newspaper and the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) support the project. They recognize the potential to connect low-income households throughout the city and the economic development opportunities that can benefit the entire community.
A recent editorial in the Palm Beach Post underscores how connectivity is a social justice issue: lack of access excludes folks from society. The editorial also makes the argument for adding fiber optic cable throughout the city, ensuring high-speed Internet access for all.
Many Palm Beach County residents are considered affluent, but Lake Worth has a poverty rate of 32 percent and poorly-ranked public schools. The editorial breaks down the statistics and points to the Pew Research Center’s figures on the digital divide, which acknowledge a class divide and an educational divide. Ninety-six percent of college graduates use the Internet compared to 61 percent of adults with a high school education or less. Likewise, 99 percent of adults with household incomes over $150,000 use the Internet vs. 78 percent of adult of households with less than $30,00.
“Modern society is so deeply networked that to live outside it is a very steep obstacle to ever getting ahead. It is, as [CRA Executive Director Joan Oliva] told the Post Editorial Board, a question of social justice.”
The Proposed Project
Lake Worth’s CRA wants free public Wi-Fi citywide, especially in the lowest income areas. To blanket the entire 6.5 square mile city in Wi-Fi would cost approximately $860,000. The city government would pay $640,000 with the CRA providing the remaining $220,000.
The project is a potential boost for economic development. “A free Wi-Fi network in the city automatically creates the perception that the city is connected and technologically advanced,” said Kelly Smallridge, head of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board. The Palm Beach Post editorial also pushes the community to consider adding fiber-optic cable to their infrastructure projects:
“While we’d like to see internet access extended all over the county, we applaud Lake Worth for taking the first step. With city residents just having passed a $40 million bond issue for extensive road repairs, this would be the perfect time, while the streets are torn up, to lay fiber optic cables.”