Officials address the digital divide of EBR residents without computers, Internet

Officials address the digital divide of EBR residents without computers, Internet
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Tyler Trahan, 8, spends many days each week at the Main Branch Library doing school work on the computer.

"They help you do research," he said. "They give you facts and information."

Tyler does not have access to a computer at home, which is a problem because his grades, homework and more are all posted online.

Tyler is not alone. Recent data from the State Library shows that 30 percent of families in East Baton Rouge Parish do not have a computer. Ten percent of those with a computer do not have access to reliable, high-speed Internet.

"It is a huge problem in the 21st century because if you're not connected, you're not connected," said Mary Stein, assistant director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Work is currently underway to improve the local statistics.

Back in July, Baton Rouge was selected along with 27 other communities to participate in a federal program aimed at increasing Internet connectivity. The program called ConnectHome is spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Local leaders met Thursday to discuss ways to achieve the goal of expanding broadband access.

"We will now have computers in the homes," said EBR Mayor-President Kip Holden. "They can get their homework. They can get their studies, and at the same time even teach their parents how to operate a computer."

However, leaders stress expanding Internet and computer access is about more than just improving educational opportunities for students.

"Our senior citizens need the Internet to get to the Social Security administration, to get to their doctors, to get to the VA," Stein said.

Impoverished areas often fall victim to the digital divide, particularly in an era when job applications and training are moving online. Without expanding access, an additional barrier is set up for the poorest members of the community.

"If you can't even take care of your basic health and education needs, you're never going to get to the next level," Stein said. "You're just going to fall further and further behind."

That still has not stopped Tyler, who spent a recent trip to the library researching Christopher Columbus.

"He didn't prove the world was round and the second thing he was not the first to discover America," Tyler said.

A program is already in place through Cox Communications that offers home Internet for a reduced rate of $9.95 to certain families living in public housing authorities in the Baton Rouge area.

Leaders said expect announcements in the future about additional ways to break down the digital divide.

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