Austin Free-Net  (Broadband Access)

Tianca Crocker, NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellow

Digital Inclusion Week is here and the need for broader awareness about digital inequities remains a key priority for digital inclusion providers across the country. This is the first in a series of daily videos and posts that NDIA will feature during Digital Inclusion Week to highlight the distinctive and intersectional nature of digital divides in America.

Our understanding of digital divides at Austin Free-Net has evolved since 1995 when we first got our start providing one-to-one computer training in Austin, Texas. Today we provide an average of 9,000 hours of broadband access per month at our free computer labs at various locations around the city.That’s a lot of data being consumed by our lab visitors who often cannot afford a broadband service plan, or who are unable to sustain the cost of a broadband subscription plus a digital device that keeps pace with the rapid expansion of web-based applications.

Our computer lab users are a combination of regular visitors, people who visit periodically, or those who find us in times of a digital resource emergency. Even as Austin’s temperature struggles to dip below 100 degrees in the summer, visitors trek by bus, car, or on foot to our computer labs simply to get online for a few hours. For instance, our lab volunteers interact with people on a daily basis who need to apply online for jobs or who have been directed to go online to find a range of resources that have moved to a digital-only format. Among the most frequent internet users in our labs, we’ve learned that many hopscotch around the city, from public libraries to public outdoor spaces connected to the city’s wireless mesh network in order to maintain access to the internet.

Austin Free-Net partnered with Minnow Mountain, Austin Public, Justin Humphrey, and our team of Google Community Leaders to produce this video highlighting the need for equitable broadband access in Austin, and how digital inclusion providers like us work every day to offer what has become a basic necessity in our society. Some may disagree with that statement, and to those who do I challenge you to disconnect this week and to try to live your best life at home and at work without broadband access. If you find yourself facing the same barriers to new opportunities that many Austin Free-Net lab users or digitally redlined communities experience, join us to share how information and communication technologies impact your daily life and how together we can ensure that this conduit for opportunity is available to all.