Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke making Internet more accessible

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke making Internet more accessible

July 10th, 2014 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Mayor Andy Berke meets with children at Northside Neighborhood House to ask about their access to the Internet on Wednesday.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

The fastest Internet in the Western hemisphere is in Chattanooga. Mayor Andy Berke wants to make sure every resident has access to it.

He's hosting discussions throughout the city about how to bridge the digital divide. He met with middle- and high school students at Northside Neighborhood House on Wednesday to talk with them about Internet access and policies needed to make the Internet more safe in public places.

More than half the students at the Northside Neighborhood House said they had Internet access in their homes and all of them used the computer at the Neighborhood House. Some children got iPads from their school. A Red Bank student said her school gives students Chromebooks, the low-cost laptop that is a joint project of HP and Google.

"Life would be boring (without the Internet)," said 14-year-old Sayvion Drew, one of a dozen students participating in the conversation.

Berke said the city is reviewing its assets to provide more Internet-accessible locations over the next year. He's taking inventory of buildings and considering more places where the Internet may be made available. Berke said he wants the Internet to create a positive economic impact for the city.

There is no point in giving Chromebooks to people when they don't have Internet access at home, he said.

About 8 percent of households in the state have no access to broadband, according to Connected Tennessee. In Northwest Georgia, about 5 percent of households are unserved, according to Georgia Technology Association reports.

Berke said that nationwide, 1 in 3 people have no Internet at all in their home. And about 66 million Americans have no computer skills, according to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Student Nyla Armour, 11, asked Berke his thoughts about cyberbullying, where people use computers to send or post belittling or threatening messages.

One student described reading about other teens posting plans online to start fights or being the subject of a nasty post and then feeling other kids' stares in the hallways at school.

That's awful, Berke said after listening to students say how scared they are by such bullying.

Berke said he wants people to have access to the Internet but he wants policies in place for safety. He told the students that police monitor Facebook sites of known gang members to look for clues about crime and violent acts they've planned or committed.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 757-6431.