Digital divide talk takes place in Youngstown

By Kalea Hall


While Mahoning County has access to broadband, subscription lags because of its expense, a survey found.

The results of the Connect Ohio survey were discussed Monday by broadband providers, local leaders and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th.

“How do we expect economic opportunities if we don’t have access to the internet these days,” said Johnson. “We have got to solve this problem.”

Connect Ohio selected five Ohio communities – Dayton, Youngstown, Fairfield County, Meigs and Vinton counties and Wyandot County – to participate in the “Connected/ Community Engagement Program.”

Locally, the Connect Ohio project was spearheaded by the Western Reserve Port Authority, the Oak Hill Collaborative and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. Together, they collected more than 2,400 broadband surveys from area residents.

The survey results found that 97 percent of households here have access to 25 megabites per second internet, Mbps. Across all households, 49 percent said that broadband access is too expensive. In the city of Youngstown, 43 percent of residents said it’s too expensive.

“I think we call it the digital divide but it’s going to be a class divide,” said Pat Kerrigan, executive director of the Oak Hill Collaborative in Youngstown. “If poor people don’t get more equity then they are going to get more and more behind.”

The discussion was about how to bring affordable broadband to the areas that need it.

“Many people don’t really know the power of what’s out there from the internet,” Johnson said.

In Youngstown, the good news is the infrastructure for access to internet is here, but the bad news is some can’t afford internet access or a computer.

“Here in Youngstown we saw a low amount of computer ownership,” said Stu Johnson, executive director for Connect Ohio. “The good news is [that’s] relatively uncomplicated to fix.”

The way to fix the new digital divide was described as providing digital skills training and getting people access to discounted computers and internet services.

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