When They Couldn’t Afford Internet Service, They Built Their Own

Dwight Roston is drilling on the roof of a home in Detroit’s Islandview neighborhood on the city’s east side. Roston is part of a team that is setting up a wireless internet connection. The home is just one of 150 designated households in the city to receive free internet service by the end of the year.

In 2016, a coalition of media, tech, and community organizations launched the Equitable Internet Initiative, a project that will result in the construction of wireless broadband internet networks across three underserved Detroit neighborhoods. Leading the initiative is the Detroit Community Technology Project, a digital justice project sponsored by Allied Media Projects. Each network will provide wireless internet service to 50 households per neighborhood, according to Diana Nucera, executive director of DCTP.

“During the economic and housing crisis, communities had to fend for themselves,” Nucera says. “Media and technology play such a vital role in economic opportunities, but the tech industry doesn’t really think about community organizing.”

That’s why, she explains, “we developed this approach called community technology.”

Detroit has one of the most extreme digital divides in the country, with more than 60 percent of low-income residents without broadband in their homes. According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, residents in low-income or rural neighborhoods are the least likely to have broadband subscriptions.

Even discounted municipal or corporate broadband subscriptions, if available, are not necessarily alternatives for many families. After all, affordability is relative.

Last year, the United Nations declared internet access a human right. But like running water, which was also declared a human right by the U.N., it is considered a paid service in the United States. In 2016, a U.S. federal court ruled that the high-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, such as gas and electricity.

And as is the case with access to most…

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