Cyber Talk Radio: Bridging the Digital Divide in San Antonio

Bret Piatt, CTR Host, and Jordana Barton, senior adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, San Antonio Branch - Episode 161 of Cyber Talk Radio

This past Saturday, October 26, episode 161 of Cyber Talk Radio hit the air on 1200 WOAI and iHeartRadio streaming. I was joined by Jordana Barton, senior adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, San Antonio Branch, to discuss her research into solving economic issues related to lack of internet access and low digital literacy.

Before we dive deep into digital divide stuff, I have Jordana explain the Federal Reserve’s purpose — it’s responsible for monetary policy, maintaining stable prices and employment, and doing work within the microeconomy. Jordana works in community and workforce development area to find the best uses for the Community Reinvestment Act — a federal law that guides banks in investing in low and moderate income communities, a task which has led her to her work about the digital divide! Jordana grew up in rural south Texas, and sure didn’t expect her career path to end up at the Federal Reserve! She first worked as a public school teacher, then moved on to higher education in Latino and Mexian-American studies, and then finally went into finance, where she brought that knowledge to students with experiential-based learning. She recently went to graduate school to study community development finance, which led her to her current position conducting mixed-method research for the Federal Reserve — she runs both qualitative (interviews) and quantitative (census) research methods.

The main lesson that Jordana is learning now is that people aren't prepared to be digital citizens and participate in the modern digital economy — so we need to work hard to include them. What can be done? Policy needs to be made to give digital resources to communities who are affected by the digital divide, which is the gap between people who have access and know how to use the internet and those who don’t have that access or knowledge. One issue to bridging this divide is that, unlike telephone lines and electricity, which are utilities and resources that the government has decided that all people need access to, the internet is still considered a luxury and unnecessary good! Infrastructure for the internet in the United States is not 100% widespread, like those for transportation or electricity — this discrepancy is driven by the incorrect assumption that it shouldn’t be treated like a basic utility. For kids, it’s become necessary for their education and development because homework now requires internet and computer literacy! It becomes a true economic issue that gets in the way of employment when employers only hire workers who are internet and computer literate. Read more details in Jordana’s research here!

After the break, we take a look at a national ranking of worst connected cities, where San Antonio and Houston are tied for No. 15! The correlation seems to be that lower the income, the less the connectivity. In San Antonio, 32% of households don’t have internet access. Low income communities, both in cities and in rural areas, face this problem, which creates a structural barrier to upward mobility and encourages a cycle of poverty. What’s needed to help solve this issue is investment in neighborhoods — people won’t buy homes and businesses won’t locate in neighborhoods where high-speed broadband isn’t available. With the brain drain being prevalent in these areas, the only way to make an environment for entrepreneurship and create an equal playing field is treating the internet as a necessary utility. Jordana wants to meet with communities and the Federal Reserve to solve these problems, especially since local governments have the authority and are leading the efforts, all they really need is funding! Texas has the most to gain by bridging the digital divide in terms of GDP, it’s a great reason to maximize this opportunity! Jordana’s upcoming research includes helping communities develop digital inclusion plans — logistics, financing and writing grants. Through this research, she’s found three things that are absolutely necessary to complete digital inclusion: infrastructure, access and affordability! Let’s make that happen, Texas!

Listen to the full episode replay to learn more about Jordana’s research into the digital divide.

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