Louisville Digital Divide Focus Brief

Tue, 2018-09-04 16:21 -- SCC Staff

Challenge Statement
A significant portion our residents do not have the digital access and tools they need at home to thrive in the modern world.

Topics
Partnership opportunities
Affordability of internet service
Municipal fiber policy

Specific Questions for Discussion
What opportunities with public and private organizations are available to promote digital inclusion? What would they look like and how could they help?
How can we help make internet access more affordable for residents?
What kind of policies should we consider in our municipal fiber build?

Background
Louisville Metro believes that modern telecommunications infrastructure is an essential component of a 21st century city. Since Mayor Fischer took office in 2011, his administration has made building out digital infrastructure a priority. Due to this focus, Louisville was the first city in the country to pass a one-touch make ready ordinance that allows for private companies to deploy new telecommunications infrastructure faster and with fewer administrative burdens. We have also worked with providers to improve our right-of-way permitting procedures and allowed them innovative deployment methods, such as micro-trenching to help speed up their network deployment. By lowering the regulatory and administrative burdens on companies, we believe it will encourage new Internet Service Provider entrants to our market and will make it easier to live, work, and play in Louisville, and will improve our overall economic competitiveness.

But, we know that not everyone is benefiting from our efforts. Today, participation in society relies on our ability to access and use the internet effectively. Nine out of ten jobs require digital skills, and even most entry-level jobs require an online application. As more and more of modern life moves online, the gap between the digital haves and have-nots will only continue to widen. And, in Louisville, we know there is a problem. Based on 2016 American Community Survey data, 29% of Louisville households do not have a wired internet connection and another 19% do not have a computer or desktop at home. These residents are missing out on job and educational opportunities, and may even have trouble accessing some government services. In order for Louisville to tap all of our region’s unrecognized potential, we need to have a comprehensive response these digital inequity.

We released our digital inclusion plan in May 2017 during National Digital Inclusion Week and have started to make progress on our goals of getting more people connected to the internet at home, get more computers into people's homes, and get our community trained in the digital skills of the 21st century. To date, we have enrolled over 450 families in low cost internet plans and distributed over 400 computers to families in need who previously had no internet connection or computer at home.

Additionally, Louisville is taking steps to build out our own municipal fiber network to encourage more homes getting connected with fiber optic cable, the new industry standard. Last year, we established a partnership with Kentucky Wired to deploy 115 miles of new fiber in our city, including a $2.2 million investment in West Louisville, by the end of 2019. This partnership is allowing us to deploy this middle mile fiber all over Jefferson County at a substantial cost savings. This fiber network will provide connectivity to government owned buildings and in the field assets such as traffic signals. We also plan to use our fiber to connect with smart city technologies. Any excess capacity on our municipal fiber network will be made available as an open access network to final mile providers connect more homes in our community with ultra-high-speed internet.

We have worked hard to improve our digital infrastructure because we believe it is an essential part of making Louisville a better place to live, a better place to work, and a better place to play, but we also know that more needs to be done to connect with our most disadvantaged residents.