City Hall

Dallas Grapples With Digital Divide

The city is getting ready to provide more Wi-Fi hotspots to areas that lack internet access.
The city is getting ready to provide more Wi-Fi hotspots to areas that lack internet access. Jacob Vaughn
A little over 40% of Dallas households lack a fixed internet connection, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. This gives Dallas the worst household connection rate among the country’s 10 largest cities. With so much being shifted online because of the pandemic, the city’s digital divide has only gotten wider. But help is on the way.

The Dallas City Council’s adoption of the 2021 approved funding for 2,100 more mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to be added to the Dallas Public Library’s collection. In early March, the library got a stockpile of 900 loanable hotspots. Melissa Dease, an administrator at the Dallas Public Library, said the demand for the hotspots exploded when the pandemic broke out. The new ones are set to be available for check out as early as Dec. 15.

In a memo last week, Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata said, at that point, each of the public library’s locations, with the exception of Bookmarks in NorthPark Center, will have at least 85 hotspots to loan. To promote equity, the locations estimated to have about 30% or more of the population without internet at home will have more hotspots available at launch.

According to U.S. Census data, there are 10 ZIP codes in the city that hover at or way above that 30% mark. Additionally, Districts 4-8 have the highest percentage of homes without internet access, and over half of District 4 homes do not have internet access. The ZIP codes 75241 and 75216, areas where the city recently installed external wireless access points, have the highest percentage of homes without internet.

click to enlarge As many as 54% of households in some Dallas ZIP codes lack internet access. - CITY OF DALLAS
As many as 54% of households in some Dallas ZIP codes lack internet access.
City of Dallas
The city’s street lighting plan also aims to brighten up the shadows of Dallas’ low connectivity and could provide help soon. The plan calls for better street lighting to help reduce crime. Through the plan, a pilot program was set up to install 10 streetlights with Wi-Fi capabilities in low internet access areas.

All 10 of the Wi-Fi-connected lights fall in the city’s streetlight priority improvement zones. Seven of them are in priority zones identified by the Mayor’s Safety Task Force.

Ten million dollars in COVID-19 relief funds have been allocated to close this digital gap. The streetlight pilot program uses CARES Act funding, which requires the project to be completed by Dec. 30.

A couple of months into the pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Education Agency and the Dallas Independent School District launched Operation Connectivity, an initiative to help deliver internet and device solutions to school districts, families and students across the state. The initiative started in Dallas to help handle the lack of access to high-speed internet and digital devices that DISD students face even more during the pandemic.

The city and DISD are looking into more ways to improve internet service. They launched an open survey a couple of weeks ago to gather information about internet access and the speed of service and to find areas that lack that service.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn