The Digital Divide Persists, Which Is Why These Funders Are Bankrolling Free Wi-Fi

Let the Googling begin!

Many marginalized New Yorkers will soon have access to free Wi-Fi, thanks to two big grants from Google and Knight, both of which will help to bridge the digital divide and bring more wireless technology to low-income families in New York City.

Between Google and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $1.5 million is being invested in free Wi-Fi for 10,000 households in New York City. These Wi-Fi hubs aim to reach the 2.5 million residents in all five boroughs who lack access to the Internet.

The Knight Foundation has taken an interest in bridging the digital divide since at least 2002. Through their Engaged Communities focus, Knight has helped bring Internet access to many low-income areas of Michigan, Florida, Georgia, and Minnesota. This most recent plan to bring Wi-Fi to New York City grew out of the Knight News Challenge, a collaboration of the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and Mozilla, which sought "breakthrough ideas that strengthen the Internet for freedom of expression and innovation."

As part of the initiative, Google is also providing 500 free Chrome laptops that the New York Public Libraries will loan out to children and teens enrolled in library programs. The wireless Internet service will be powered by Sprint, and its primary use will be for residents who can't afford their own connections, and residents enrolled in home-learning programs and ESL courses.

Google giving people free Wi-Fi is kind of a no-brainer. The company likely sees this as a sound investment in both the community and in its own business plan. It gets more customers, while giving people a tool to prosper in the economy. Google gave a $600,000 grant to San Francisco last year to provide free wireless in parks and public places in the city. They have also bankrolled free Wi-Fi in many parts of the country including its hometown of Mountain View, California, and areas of Missouri, Georgia, and Oklahoma.

The New York Public Library recently surveyed its patrons and learned that, of patrons who use the free internet and computers available in its branches, 55 percent report not having broadband access at home. When household income dropped under $25,000, the number of patrons without Internet access rose to 65 percent.

“Far too many New Yorkers do not have regular access to the Internet, and as a result find themselves excluded from a wealth of education, employment, and community resources,” said Ben Fried, Google’s chief information officer. “This innovative program to loan hotspots to low-income households is a simple, effective way to help those who need broadband and technology the most."

Not to mention all the added Googling that will be produced. Or I guess people could use Bing. But when's the last time someone told you to Bing something?

More Google Coverage on IP:

Google: Grants for Science Research

Google is Getting Serious About Marine Conservation

Female Tech Entrepreneurs in Chicago Get a Lift from Google, Lefkofsky Family Foundation