Black Pastors In Tennesse Urge Google Not to Exclude Poor Communities In Fiber Internet Expansion

(Photo: Screengrab)
(Photo: Screengrab)

The Rev. Frank Stevenson, a pastor at St. Luke’s Primitive Baptist Church in Nashville, hears plenty of buzz about fiber Internet expanding in Nashville. While the concept is exciting for the city, he and other black pastors have concerns and questions about what this means for the communities they serve. Mainly, will underrepresented populations in Nashville be included in this wave of technology, or will they be further left behind as others’ internet access improves?

“In this land of fast-moving access, to not have access puts us at a disadvantage,” Stevenson said, speaking with a group of church and elected officials at a news event last week. He described seeing a line of young students waiting to use computers at the library at the J.C. Napier Homes. “We want to make sure that Google will be responsible in how they provide services in this city.”

The conversation concerning Nashville’s digital divide has gained momentum in recent years as community leaders have recognized the importance of internet access in education, health care, job opportunities and many other facets of daily life. The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has initiated a $400,000 fund with the help of the city and local providers to bring more access to children. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative also is underway in Nashville.

The presence of Google Fiber has brought additional attention to digital inclusion issues in Nashville and other markets. As it rolled out fiber in Kansas City, based on density and demand, many low-income areas did not gain access, spurring the company to provide free internet to some areas, along with digital training. In Austin, Texas, and in Nashville, the company has made digital inclusion part of its mission and it has committed to providing free internet to some public housing developments and community centers.

“The internet is one of the best resources for learning new things, finding opportunities and connecting with loved ones,” Daynise Joseph, Google Fiber’s Nashville community impact manager, said in an emailed statement. “Google Fiber is excited about its programs and partnerships to address the digital divide in Nashville.”

Joseph pointed to Google Fiber’s Digital Inclusion Fellowships, which focus on improving digital skills in low-income areas, and Google’s involvement in ConnectHome as examples of Google Fiber’s commitment to improving the digital divide. The company announced earlier this year that Edgehill Apartments will be the first housing development to gain free access to gigabit speed internet. Other Google Fiber partnerships are underway with the Martha O’Bryan Center and Salama Urban Ministries.

“We’re continuing to explore new ways to reach digitally divided communities,” Joseph said. “Beyond these focused efforts, Google Fiber is building out its infrastructure to connect as much of Nashville and its diverse neighborhoods as possible.”

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SOURCE: The Tennessean