Digital Equality in Lexington

Yall that know me know I’m very involved in two great Legacy projects – the Trail and the revitalization of the East End.   Well, today I started my involvement with another:  I am chair of the Broadband Coalition Community Engagement Committee.  This group is responsible to the Knight Foundation for a $550,000 grant to bridge the digital divide here in Lexington.

This is one of the best stories in Lexington in a long time. Wireless broadband is being provided in two of our most underserved neighborhoods – East End and Cardinal Valley FOR FREE.

Today, information is as vital to the healthy functioning of our city as clean air, safe streets and good schools.  Without access to information – digital information – you’re a second-class citizen. You’re second-class in access to information and second class economically and even socially. In a country where even entry-level job applications must be made online, denial of digital access equals denial of opportunity. 

We are better than that here in Lexington.   

And there are no better places to prove it than in the East End and Cardinal Valley.  Internet usage in these areas is among the lowest in the city.

Essentially what we are going to do is to place radio transmitters on poles at 200-400 foot intervals around each neighborhood, flip the switch, and let the signal roll.

This is part of a wonderful coalition that has been put together whose mission it is to make Lexington an even greater place to live.  The Broadband Coalition consists of the City, UK, Connect Kentucky, the State, City Library, Fayette County Schools and others.  Much of the credit for the success of this group belongs to Rama Dhuwaraha, Lexington’s Chief Information Officer, and Anthony Wright, the city’s Economic Development Director.  What this group has come up with is unique in the nation – to my knowledge there is no other city where partners have come together and essentially contributed into the success of  such a project, instead of demanding something from it.

For example, Kentucky Utilities has agreed to allow the placement of the radio wifi transmitter on its poles rent free, as well as providing the electricity to run each of the transmitters.  UK has agreed to provide the broadband connection through its service.  Windstream and Insight have agreed not to protest this, in the belief that once people in these underserved areas have a taste of the internet, they are going to want faster access and thus become customers. (Our connection speed is estimated to be 768k – fast enough to watch full motion video, but not anybody’s idea of fast, either.)  Schools agreed to be transmitter locations.  And the city – whose initial purpose was public safety – agreed to accept a Knight Foundation grant to serve these underserved areas.

This may all sound simple, or arcane, or whatever. But trust me, this is a big deal.

We have the opportunity to impact nearly 10% of our city’s population who live in these digitally disconnected places.   We will improve public safety – now, connection speeds are so slow that it is faster to drive evidence to the police station, for example.  And we are sending a message – to our citizens and the world – that we get it. I can’t say it enough: this is a HUGE win for our city.

The wifi transmitters will be hung in the East End, Cardinal Valley, downtown, and the major corridors of the city by mid-July.  Our committee’s role is to engage and educate people in these areas on how they can best utilize this service.  Our primary goal is to spur and increase  digital adoption.   We will work with neighborhood associations, community groups, make broadcast public service announcements, do direct mail, put out flyers – whatever it takes to get the word out.  .  We will institute other ideas like a contest for kids to design the best app that can be used on this network, perhaps. And we will be working with the library and the Urban League to help folks get trained in how the use the internet – look for pictures of the library’s PURPLE mobile internet lab

We will be working through the spring and early summer to make all this happen – ideas, questions, and comments welcome.  Stay tuned.  And smile.  Something really good is happening in our city.

(below, a wifi transmitter on a pole in downtown – in case you wanted to know what to look for…)

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2 Comments

Filed under New World Planning

2 responses to “Digital Equality in Lexington

  1. Wonderful!!!
    Now, let’s make a city wide call for computers. There has to be so many “extra” computers sitting in so many homes that could be donated!
    SO exciting to see the community coming together.

    • steveaustinlex

      Good idea – Connect Kentucky will provide new computers and printers to 106 houses in Equestrian View in the East End and the Urban League has money for computers too – so we have access, training, and equipment coming together – a good sign for the city

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