CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Now more than ever, internet access is crucial. Yet, there are many people who don’t have it at home.
The Center for Community Solutions is an Ohio-based policy and research think tank, which conducts research across the state focused on community issues.
Its findings show Cincinnati residents from low-income households are 10 times more likely not to have an internet subscription, and, according to census data, 18,000 people in the city only have access to the internet on their phone.
This is what we mean by the digital divide," said Emily Campbell, chief operating officer of the Center for Community Solutions. "There are some people who are able to do everything they need to do online, no problem, but there are other people who are shut out from being able to do that and it can have serious consequences for their health, for their livelihood, and for their daily lives.
A pilot project in Price Hill is trying to bridge that digital divide in the neighborhood, with hopes of expanding to other parts of Cincinnati and across Hamilton County, if it’s successful.
Two designers from the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program are working with Price Hill Will and the Cincinnati Public Library to provide free Wi-Fi, something the neighborhood really needs.
“There’s a large population that doesn’t have access to Wi-Fi. You’ll often see little pockets of people in the neighborhood around where they can get free Wi-Fi. One of those locations is down the street at the rec center. You’ll see people perched up against the window trying to get the free Wi-Fi. You can get free Wi-Fi at the library and there’s other pockets around restaurants where you can get free Wi-Fi. So, it’s obviously a great need in the neighborhood, and people are trying to get access to it,” said Sam Conover, community engagement director of Price Hill Will.
Anca Matyiku is one of the designers heading the “Nodes” project. It stands for Neighborhoods of Design Engagement. She says the idea is to create an outdoor living room at St. Lawrence Square, where people can connect, and use library resources and the internet.
“We’re creating places where people can sit, where they can hang out, where they can be with their neighbors, be on the internet, get on the library resources without having to physically go there,” said Matyiku.
For the past year, Nodes has used a community bulletin board posted at the square to get feedback and learn what people want to see there.
Free Wi-Fi access is what will drive the project.
This digital divide, if folks have heard of it, it’s real. It’s real in Cincinnati and so, this is a little way of doing it, is bringing Wi-Fi to this spot,” said D.J. Trischler, DAAP designer. “In our society today, you need internet, whether it’s to go to school, to get jobs, especially post-pandemic, with a lot of hybrid working. It’s really an equity issue in a lot of ways. If you don’t have internet, you’re kind of stuck in some ways.
Trischler says people will be able to access the Wi-Fi if they’re within eyeshot of the square.
Conover says Price Hill Will has also applied for grants totaling $50,000 to extend the Wi-Fi access even further.
“We have some grant asks out now for putting 12 routers along the entire Warsaw Avenue neighborhood business district,” she said.
Campbell says it’s nice to see a “holistic” approach being taken by communities.
“Recognizing that you need all the pieces of the puzzle in order to help everyone in the community be able to move forward, and that digital access is so important for health, for jobs, for education, for entertainment, and for daily life,” she said.
The Nodes project is trying to raise $3,000 to provide the free Wi-Fi at St. Lawrence Square for three years. Click here to learn more and donate.
Price Hill Will says the grant it applied for would provide free access further along Warsaw Avenue for three to five years, and it hopes to hear back within a month.
In March, Ohio launched a program called “BroadbandOhio,” which dedicated billions of dollars to expanding high-speed internet for families in need.