A Detroit Neighborhood (Photo: Jerry B, Licensed via DepositPhotos)

If one wonders why many in the neighborhoods feel disconnected from the rebirth of Detroit, it might be because they’re actually disconnected.

There has been a lot of talk about race as of late. The bankruptcy is over and race is in the national conversation and so it goes here in Detroit, which among all American cities, has one of the most tangled histories.

It’s quite possible that counting the number of black people in the newest bar downtown (or the various reactions to it) is missing the real problem completely.

Detroit internet statisticsAn interesting statistic popped up in a conversation earlier this week. More than 100,000 Detroit households, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey for 2013, have no access to Internet. No hard line, no cell with data or mobile hotspot for 39.9% of the more than 255,000 active households in the city.

The numbers get worse. When you throw out those with a cellphone with mobile data, and count only hard lines (which have higher speeds, more reliability, and most times no real data caps) the number jumps to more than half – 56.9% in Detroit without access.

A third troubling statistic is that more than 70% of Detroit schoolchildren don’t have Internet access. So those tens of thousands of netbooks Detroit students got awhile back? Most times, there was nothing at home for them to hook up to. Especially when it comes to netbooks, without the Internet the machine is basically a doorstop.

These data points weren’t passed around in the local press much, but these are numbers that need to be paid attention to. No matter how he tries, even the mighty Dan Gilbert and his dream of turning Woodward into “Webward” will stop at Grand Boulevard next to the last stop of the M1 Rail unless there’s wide effort put into this nuts-and-bolts problem.

No one person or organization can do this alone, and admittedly, this problem is harder to solve than hiring a few extra waitstaff at a hip bar. Both Google and Facebook are active in getting Internet to the corners of the world. How about bringing that outreach to Detroit?

If Detroit’s revitalization is going to be truly inclusive, city residents should have the opportunity of access to read the banter going on back and forth about itself. Right now, much of the city cannot read these words, let alone be an active part of the discussion.

But significantly more important than reading us in the blogosphere, this is about recognizing and fixing the core issue – the fact that much like access to water sustains life, access to the Internet is what sustains a successful education, access to jobs and opportunities in the modern world. If we want to truly transform our economy beyond a few highly motivated boosters into a sustainable economic situation, we simply must have our students ready for those jobs of the future.

There are a few bright spots. There are programs for some, including Comcast Internet Essentials where if you have a child in school that qualifies for the National School Lunch Program a household can get a decent connection for $9.95 a month (and they have a low-cost computer available). It’s not the only solution, but it’s a start. There are also numerous community groups making progress in pieces, but not like there could be.

It should go without saying that Detroit has the immensely pressing issues of security, services, schools and more. But maybe Internet (and the associated learning and tech that should go with it), for the sake of Detroit’s future, should be added to the priority list today.

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