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Empowerment of low income rental communities includes access to the internet

Net neutrality and tenant advocacy: more connection than you think
    Net neutrality is in the news this week, but for many of us it's just more blah-blah-blah. Think again. Net neutrality means that "all traffic on the Internet will be treated equally."
    Renters live in a big world! Back in the day, decisions about where you lived were made next door or down the street or across town where your landlord lived. Now, most landlords are really regional, national or global corporations. You can't just go talk to a decision maker about the rent, the elevator, or the house rules. The on site manager is no longer a decision maker. The manager is just a clerk. Maybe she or he will pass along a message the bosses...but probably not. There's a rule of bureaucracies that "bad news doesn't travel uphill." Instead of getting ugly with the site manager thru a glass window with a hole in it, internet tools permit you to be a little thoughtful and compose a written document.
 
   Internet tools like email, social media and on line petitions can provide a way for you can reach a decision maker about your concerns about your HOME. Same goes for reaching any of the housing intermediaries (HUD, USDA, Ohio Housing Finance Agency). If you happen live nearby, you need to get dressed, drive over, run thru terrorist screening procedures including standing in lines, presenting valid ID, wearing a badge and being escorted to (wait for it) a clerk who will write down your complaint. If the office is not in your town, you can leave a phone message after wandering thru an automated answering machine. Email and social media are the ways that you can deliver your message to a decision maker...if you can get and pay for the internet access. (see below)
    
At the simplest level last week's FCC action CHANGES NOTHING...and that's good. The tech newsite CNET says "That's the whole point. The Internet has always operated on this basic principle of openness, or Net neutrality. The decade long debate over how to implement Net neutrality has really been a battle to make certain a level of openness is preserved. And the way to preserve it is by establishing rules of the road that let ISPs, consumers and innovators know what's allowed and what's not allowed on the Net." In other words, it's a start. http://www.cnet.com/news/7-things-net-neutrality-wont-do/
  
 So where from here? Four barriers continue to face low income net citizens aka "netizens." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netizen).
1.  Getting internet service. Rural areas and inner city neighborhood suffer from internet redlining. Telecom companies don't want spend money to put high speed services into communities with a low density of potential customers. Cleveland's new high speed service is an example where all the high speed service goes to business and institutions...not neighborhoods. http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/cleveland-broadband-fast-100GB-city The website Daily Yonder gives more examples of the need to building rural systems. http://www.dailyyonder.com/topics/broadband-and-tech
2.  Paying for the service.
  • In many states, corporate internet service providers (ISP) have gotten state governments to block the creation of community-based internet service providers, thus limiting competition and keeping prices high. While the FCC was adopting a net neutrality policy this past week, it also challenged such state restrictions. http://tinyurl.com/kvwgq69 This will promote competition from community based services that can deliver lower prices for consumers.
  • Wireless internet provides some other opportunities for competitive services. In New York City, for instance, the city is promoting free internet access for the public. http://www.cnet.com/news/nyc-plans-to-reboot-payphones-into-superfast-wi-fi-hubs/
  • What if property owners used their buying power to purchase bulk cable services that included internet access passed along the savings along to their tenants. There were some experiments in the 1990's but by beginning of the new century landlords had shifted to systems that resold the wholesale services at retail rates and pocketted the profits.
  • Finally, until the internet arrives in your community at a reasonable price, there's always Mickey D's; coffee shops and other businesses, and public library hotspots where a person with a mobile device (laptop, tablet, smart phone) can get internet access. Often not very fast connections, but usually enough to send and receive email...but be careful about sending private info from public wi fi sites.)
3.  The third barrier to access is hardware cost. However, computers are coming down in price. This past year, the best selling laptops are Chromebooks (from a variety of manufacturers) which start around $300. Smart phones and tablets are available for around the same price. For many households, even that's a stretch, Creating a community computer center at your community room is another option and expanding access to computers at libraries and social agencies is could be goals for tenant leaders, advocates and inclusion planners. 
4.  Finally there's the barrier of knowledge. How can advocates help advocates to learn to use the internet tools. As with access to hardware, access to knowledge could be an advocacy goal for leaders and advocates in coming years. Just having access to the internet does not teach folks how to avoid internet scams and how to distinguish between clickbait and real news.
    Tim Marena, editor at the Daily Yonder reminds us: "Community network enthusiasts will consider the FCC’s vote Thursday a victory for underserved communities, wherever they may be. The matter will likely head to the courts before resolution." ( http://www.dailyyonder.com/editor-s-note-universal-need-speed/2015/02/26/7742 ). Rental advocates need to keep in mind that this first step towards preserving net neutrality was won because of internet advocates flooded the FCC with email messages and took to the streets, where ever they lived, to make their voices heard. Its time for tenant advocates to work on removing the other barriers to making renters into netizens.
 What are the RHINO member action steps
RHINO providers
1.  Support households use of internet resources by providing valuable links and encouraging basic skill development.
2.  Seek funding from local foundations and/or housing providers to offset the costs of purchasing hardware (laptops, tablets and smart phones.)

RHINO tenants and advocates
1.  Work to create access at home by setting up in building free/low cost wifi services, community computer centers or low cost bulk cable programs.
2.  Offer internet skill building as a part of your meetings and events.  Invite reps from local computer clubs, public libraries and other educational programs to give presentations.

Inclusion Partners
1.  Investigate and implement low cost municipal internet services, especially in low income neighborhoods and rural communities.
2.  Sponsor programs to assist low income families to purchase hardware at a discounted cost.

All RHINO members
Create on line content that draws low income and rental households to the internet.  On line search tools; newsy and interactive facebook pages and websites.

What are your ideas for bridging the digital divide?  You tell RHINO and we'll help tell the world.  Write to communitymanager@rhinohio.com




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