If you’re reading this blog post, you probably don’t live on the South Side.
Ald. Sandi Jackson estimates that only 20 percent of the homes in her 7th Ward have access to the Internet -- “and that’s being generous.” When Jackson tried to upgrade from dial-up to broadband in 2005, she was told the service was available in Hyde Park and the south suburbs -- but not inbetween.
“Even now, we don’t have access in broad areas of the ward to broadband,” she said.
The local libraries only have two computers apiece, which means schoolchildren and senior have to line up for Internet sessions limited to half an hour. That’s tough for kids who need Google and Wikipedia to research papers. When Jackson held a job fair, 90 percent of the employers required applications online. Most of the applicants didn’t even have e-mail addresses.
To connect the South Side with the Internet, Jackson recently held a Help Close the Digital Divide Benefit at Rumba, gathering $10,000 in pledges to repair and load software into computers donated by ward businesses. Jackson plans to set up 20 computers at the New Beginnings Technology Access Center, 7229 S. Exchange Ave., so South Siders can surf the Web whenever they need it.
Up until now, volunteers have been hauling Jackson’s old campaign computers around to churches, teaching classes in computer literacy. Since the ward is so un-wired, they have to make phone calls and leaflet liquor stores to bring in students. Seniors are excited to get their first e-mail addresses. In a neighborhood with few supermarkets, and many carless households, they’re excited to find they can order groceries online -- until they find out that Peapod doesn’t deliver to 95th and Jeffery.
“On the entire South Side and West Side, there’s a void in access to the Internet,” Jackson said. “This is like a secret society that lives among us.”