Detroit's Digital Divide: Low Income Citizens Build Their Own Internet

The city of Detroit, in the U.S. state of Michigan, has experienced an impressive economic and demographic shift over the past 50-years.

Deindustrialization coupled with depopulation has stripped the city of it’s economic strength cascading it into turmoil. Global competition from automakers shifted manufacturing jobs out of the area. As businesses left, communities decayed, inducing a terrifying surge in violent crime. Urban rot came next festering from within and eventually sending the city into bankruptcy in 2013 where it reemerged in 2014.

Five-years later, Detroit has gotten worse – not better - and the city is having trouble providing basic utilities for its residents.

In particular, the city along with internet service providers are failing to deliver high-speed internet to a significant part of the low income areas. 

That is why one community group of technology geeks have banded together to create an internet of their own.

Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) is a program that teaches Detroit residents how to build high speed WiFi networks. EII says Detroit is one of the top 5 least connected cities in the United States coupled with 60% of the city residents that do not have access to high-speed internet. The group aims to stop the growing digital divide that is leaving many low income residents behind and forgotten in the inner cities where there is only death and destruction.

EII has trained teams in the North End, Island View, and Southwest Detroit to setup infrastructure: a church that functions as a hub and internet service provider which then a signaled is beamed to communities that don’t have access to high-speed internet.

Residents who want internet from EII have to meet two requirements:

  1. can’t afford internet
  2. don’t already have internet or <10 Mbps

Once the requirements are met, EII will send a team to the residential location and install an outdoor directional antenna and an indoor router with a setup time around one-hour. EII recognizes that access to high-speed internet is a worldwide problem and if that is not fixed a “digital class system” will develop.

EII wants high-speed access for everyone..Popular Mechanics also said,

The EII offers a radical proposition that would allow people to get Internet outside of a major telecom. But it’s got its own money concerns. Initially, it worked off a federal grant. When that money dried up, the deal with Rocket Fiber made it viable again.


But that partnership will not cover the costs of more and more internet connections growing in perpetuity. Jenny Lee, the executive director of Allied Media Projects, the group behind EII, raised the question in a recent article. “How do we do this in way that doesn’t replicate the inequities of other utility companies? Are we going to be the equivalent of water department coming to shut you off if you don’t pay your bill?”


One way the group hopes it will prove its worth is by creating apps. Its Next Gen Apps program teaches students coding basics like CSS, HTML, Javascript, and Node.js. Combined with the EII’s efforts to provide internet in their areas, there’s a hope that people will truly make the internet their own.

Bottomline: Detroit is a prime example of citizens working together for survival in a post collapsed bankrupt city. The one question we have: how long until government shuts down this private internet?