Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion Uncategorized

COMMUNITY REPORT: High-speed Internet access is essential to all Angelenos

Internet access is a human right. And not just for tech nerds — for everyone.

There was a time, not so long ago, when that was a controversial opinion. Smart phones were unimaginable to those of us who were wowed by beepers. We associated the Internet with a long, frustrating dial-up process. Computers seemed pretty irrelevant to the fundamental necessities of life like food, clean water, shelter and basic security.

Today, the Internet has become so central to the way we live, work, learn and even fall in love. People who don’t have easy, fast online access are at an immediate and unfair disadvantage.

Students increasingly struggle to complete their homework assignments and finish their research projects without search engines to help them find new scientific research or tap into their classroom’s online assignment portal.

Companies without high-speed Internet can’t effectively sell their products online, advertise on social media or connect with customers via email. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research tells us that Internet access produces thousands of dollars of consumer surplus per user per year.

Unemployed Angelenos are missing new job opportunities because they can’t easily flip through online employment ads and families who are looking for shelter or meals will not readily have the access to information they need to provide for their loved ones.

The next Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg might be living in South L.A. or Pacoima right now, but can’t practice coding because getting online is just too frustrating.

Around 30 percent of L.A. residents don’t have access to high-speed Internet. Most of those residents live in our low-income neighborhoods. Unequal access to the Internet is both a cause and consequence of other economic and social inequalities, and it’s high time we treat it as a necessity, instead of a luxury.

Delivering digital infrastructure for Internet access is as important today as our older infrastructure that delivers electricity, transportation, clean water, and lighted streets.

This month, we took another step toward closing that digital divide. Los Angeles became a recipient of President Barack Obama’s #ConnectHome initiative, which will connect more than 275,000 low-income households across the country to high-speed broadband at affordable rates.

We are partnering with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on this program, so that we aren’t just bringing Angelenos online, we are also providing digital literacy programs to help them take full advantage of what the Internet has to offer.

The Internet can’t solve all our problems, of course. Sometimes we need face-to-face contact with a human being, someone who can sit down next to us, practice interview strategies and walk us through job applications.

Luckily, that resource is already readily available in our city: libraries.

Since the economic crisis hit in 2008, libraries have become virtual triage centers for job seekers. Thousands of Angelenos visit our 73 public library branches every day, not just to take advantage of the computers (more than three-quarters of library users on the Internet are looking for jobs), but also to chat with the capable men and women who are trained to help patrons find what they need.

We now have a WorkSource Center at the Central Library downtown, where a full-time staff holds workshops to help people with job training, education assessment and help navigate job listings. At every other branch library, a trained senior librarian is on hand to guide patrons to the nearest WorkSource Center and help them navigate job listings on our new employment website, www.jobsla.org.

As mayor of this city, it’s my goal — and my civic duty — to make Los Angeles as connected as possible. I want the diversity, creativity, innovation, and genius of Angelenos to get online, so that it echoes around the globe.

One important part of that ambition is my CityLinkLA program, which aims to provide free citywide WiFi to every citizen, in every neighborhood, regardless of income level.

The program makes city assets — real estate, strands of fiber optics, streetlights and more — available to broadband providers, cellular operators and new providers to continue the trend of faster speeds around L.A. to help us connect more of our residents and businesses to the Internet.

An investment in high-speed Internet is an investment in the future of this city and all who live here. I hope, as your mayor, to make it available to all of you.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs on the first Thursday of each month in The Wave.