KCTV5 Special Report: Bridging the digital divide - KCTV5

KCTV5 Special Report: Bridging the digital divide

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KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) -

People probably don't give the digital divide separating those who can afford to pay for internet service at home and those who can't much thought. But some businesses are helping to bridge the gap between the two.

The library is always a good place for people to come and hop on the internet if they can't afford to pay for the service at home. But KCTV5 found more and more people are finding new ways to get online - like coming to their nearest McDonald's for more than just the fries and burgers. The free Wi-Fi is becoming a hot item that's not listed on any menu.

Homework time for Stacie Brooks comes with fries and her favorite sandwich. On one specific day the Washington High School senior was working on her assignment for her entrepreneurial class.

"I'm making my business plan. I have a cleaning service," Brooks said.

She said she and her friends come to the McDonald's at 75th Place and State Avenue in Kansas City, KS, every week for the fast internet.

"I think that's great since my internet doesn't work at home. I have somewhere else to go for free to get my work done so my grades won't slip," Brooks said.

In 2010, company giants like Starbucks and McDonald's changed their policy to fit with the technological times, allowing anyone who walks in the door to utilize their Wi-Fi. There is no purchase necessary and no password needed.

"It is a good business decision for McDonald's to do this," Cassandra Savage, an owner of the McDonald's, said.

Savage owns four McDonald's restaurants in the Kansas City area and she admits it's a win-win for the community and her bottom line.

"Many of them come here and they do office work and have meetings. And, of course we have students from community that come and study and we are just glad that we can offer that," she said.

According to the Kansas Corporation Commission, only 63 percent of families in the Sunflower State, or 1.2 million households, have internet access. It's been six years since all 5,000 high school students in the KCK School District were assigned free laptops.

The only stumbling block discovered in a district-wide survey revealed that 40 percent of students don't have internet at home. The question then being asked is where students turn to get connected.

"Sometimes I go to the office at my apartments or I go to KFC or something to my auntie's house around the corner," said Dan Murray, a sophomore at FL Schlagle High School.

Dan said he finds a way to connect to the internet somehow.

"I usually walk around to get a signal," said Fatimah Coppah, a senior at Schlagle High School.

She explained that she basically walks around in her neighborhood. She showed KCTV5's Sandra Olivas how she walks through the parking lot of her apartment complex looking for an open signal that's not password protected.

"OK, I see it now. It's right here. This is the one I use. It's called NETGEAR," she said.

Coppah faces one big downfall with this method, though.

"I just go to a certain page and go back inside because it's too cold to be standing outside," she said.

"I think there are a lot of studies going on right now about what do we need and where do we need it and how are we going to fund it," said Mary Lou Hines Fritts, the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.

Fritts said states like Missouri have set up the Missouri Broad Band Now initiative to tackle the problem of getting internet access to low-income families as well as rural communities that aren't wired yet.

Until the digital divide is narrowed, students like Victor Cruz don't mind spending a few dollars at places like McDonald's to feed their stomachs and also their minds.

"It's very tempting, but you could always use a refreshment or drink to keep us going on our homework," said the senior from Sumner Academy.

While several of the people interviewed talked about ordering food while at McDonald's, their company policy says no purchase is required to use their free Wi-Fi.

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