Los Angeles is a relatively poor city.
Sure, some of the world's wealthiest people and most expensive real estate exist here. But the per-capita income in this town is less than $28,000 a year. Nearly half of renters in L.A. pay half their income to keep a roof over their heads. And the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti says nearly one in three families (30 percent) here don't have high-speed Internet access.
Lack of online access creates "real challenges in everyday life, from finding jobs to obtaining an education to participating in our city's social fabric," Garcetti says.
An idea that might have once seemed quixotic, providing free broadband Internet across the city, is a little closer to reality this week after the City Council voted to start accepting proposals to install sections of a "CityLinkLA" network.
The unanimous vote came after city administrative officer Miguel Santana unveiled a report that outlines how this might work.
The city would use its properties, buildings and right-of-ways to beam "world-class, high-speed Internet access" across this 500-square-mile metropolis, Santana's report says:
The city has identified more than 100 properties where "fiber hubs" or "central offices" can be placed. Each such hub is roughly 12 feet by 30 feet and would serve about 20,000 homes or businesses.
Twenty-thousand light poles could be utilized, according to the report.
The idea, first proposed by Councilman Bob Blumenfield, is to make high-speed Internet access available to each and every home in L.A. Blumenfield:
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In today’s digital age, Internet access is a necessity, not a luxury. Today, however, too many Angelenos do not have access to broadband, while many businesses and residents pay higher prices for slower speeds when compared to other global cities. Universal access to high-speed Internet is essential to the city’s future economic competitiveness, and will drive Los Angeles’s entertainment, tech and entrepreneurial activity. Free wireless Internet access will be a game changer in terms of helping to bridge the city’s digital divide.
Will tech companies used to reaming customers with mediocre service and high prices rise to the occasion and offer to install parts of L.A.'s public broadband? Time will tell. The councilman says, "We’re looking for providers that share our vision and are ready to invest now."