Economic Development

Digital Divide Cuts Deep in Mahoning Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Data presented by the Youngstown-Mahoning County Broadband Initiative demonstrates just how deep the digital divide runs in the Mahoning Valley – underscoring the need to improve internet access across the community, its partners say.

The Broadband Initiative – a partnership composed of the Oak Hill Collaborative, the Western Reserve Port Authority, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Connect Ohio and Connected Nation – is developing a broadband technology action plan to improve the economic potential of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

According to an American University School of Communication report that uses estimates based on 2012 data from the Federal Communications Commission, just 57% of households in the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area had access to high-speed, reliable, broadband internet service.

The Broadband Initiative is urging residents, businesses and institutions to complete surveys found here to describe how they use the internet and related technologies. The data will be used to help develop the strategic plan. The surveys will help determine a more precise rate of accessibility in the city and county.

For example, 66.2% of households in Mahoning County had access to 10 megabytes per second, or Mbps, broadband service through a local provider. Of these data, Youngstown’s connectivity rate likely drops another 10% to 15%, but the surveys will help determine a more precise rate of accessibility.

However, just 9.5% of Mahoning County households had access to 25 Mbps download speed, the current FCC standard. Of that 9.5%, just 3% were Youngstown residents and the average download speed in Mahoning County as of June 2015 registered between six Mbps and 10 Mbps.

The surveys will also examine the adoption rates – that is, the percent of households that subscribe to internet services — of broadband in Youngstown and Mahoning County.

As of 2012, statewide data showed that the average adoption rate in Ohio stood at 71% and the rate in Mahoning County was in the same range. In Youngstown, however, the adoption rate dropped to 57%. That rate is likely to drop in neighborhoods with households that have lower incomes.

According to Connect Ohio’s fourth-quarter report to Ohio Development Services Agency, Youngstown’s poverty rate stands at 40.7%. The data shows that although internet service is available in low-income neighborhoods in the city, the high poverty rate, the high cost of adequate broadband service, lack of computer skills and the lack of computer hardware presents obstacles to improving broadband adoption in some of these neighborhoods.

“The impact that this barrier to entry creates is that it prevents low-income citizens from benefiting from broadband access, which is quickly becoming an essential utility to access educational, medical, news, government and entertainment resources, in addition to creating basic internet skills which are expected in the general workforce,” the initiative concludes.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.