Philadelphia slumps in terms of Internet Access

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Debra Johnson, The Manager of the Nicetown-Tioga Library, Philadelphia, sees a lack of access to computers and speedy internet in her underserviced Philadelphia corner. While some people hang on outside to tap into the Wi-Fi, others head to the public access terminals to go online. “They usually come in to look for jobs,” says Debra Johnson, on one many of public access systems. At the library branch, along Broad Street adjacent to Erie Avenue, six to seven thousand people use these systems in a month.

Recently released census data confirms what several people in the city have previously suspected: big swaths of Philly are almost off the grid, and there is only minimal access to quick internet services in a lot of the houses. Policy officials say that the disparity in people getting internet access has become another focal point of inequality in US society, since so much economic activity occurs online.

  • Across the country in 2017, the penetration rate of broadband internet by household stood at 83.5 percent. In the suburbs of Philly, including South Jersey, it stood at 88.1 percent.
  • In Philly, the rate stood at 71.6 percent, which was the second lowest among the twenty-five biggest cities in the US.
  • The internet penetration rate of the city fell by 2.7 percentage points between 2016 and 17. This covers both wireless internet and wired services such as those from Comcast®, which is arguably the best internet provider in the nation.
  • Philly was the only big city to record internet access decline, according to a local daily’s analysis.

Just around the corner from the aforementioned library is a neighborhood consisting of four thousand rowhouses, where one in four residences had internet access via broadband, according to new data. Overall, the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood had the lowest internet penetration rate in the city by household, which was 37.1 percent.

The Fairhill neighborhood had the second lowest access, with just above 41 percent of its connected households.

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However, wealthier areas of the city fared more favorably, according to the data. Neighborhoods with penetrations of just above eight in ten houses, or as good as national average at the least, were Northern Liberties/Fishtown, Center City, Roxborough, Manayunk, Fairmount/Spring Garden, and Chestnut Hill.

Smartphones with data packages are now considered a means of bridging this digital divide, providing families with access at least on a relatively small screen.

Among the twenty-five biggest US cities, residents of Seattle, San Jose, and San Diego reported the highest access to the internet, with over 91 percent of houses connected via speedy broadband.

Philly essentially tied Tennessee’s Memphis city for second-worst, and this is consistent with data released and updated by the US Census Bureau.

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