Two community centers on the edge of downtown gained access to some of the fastest Internet speeds in the city on Saturday as part of an effort to bridge a digital divide in the Triangle.
The new gigabit-speed connections at the Tarboro Road Community Center and the St. Monica Teen Center will be provided free by AT&T, which launched its ultra high-speed service in select neighborhoods in Raleigh in December.
The neighboring centers are along the border of the Idlewild and College Park communities off New Bern Avenue, on the edge of Southeast Raleigh. It’s an area where not every family has easy access to high-speed Internet, officials said as they unveiled the service Saturday.
Octavia Rainey, a longtime community activist, said economic changes in Idlewild and College Park – new houses and new residents – mean some neighbors are well-versed in the Internet while others are struggling to keep up.
“This is the hub where we begin to break down those barriers,” she said.
At the community centers, all residents will have free access to high-speed Internet, whether in computer labs or on a wireless network.
Gail Roper, the chief information officer for Raleigh, said high-speed access for all residents is critical, as more services move online. Residents need to be able to fill out housing applications, search for jobs, pay their bills and help their children with homework.
“It really opens up the world for the community in a way they didn’t have,” Roper said.
AT&T last year reached an agreement with six cities to begin rolling out its high-speed service in parts of the Triangle and Triad. The cities all are part of the N.C. Next Generation Network, which works to bring high-speed Internet to the area.
As part of the agreements with Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem that streamline the rollout for AT&T, the company will provide community benefits, such as hooking up as many as 100 community sites to the service for free.
The cost for residents to subscribe to the high-speed service called “U-Verse with AT&T GigaPower” starts at $70 per month. The company gradually will connect additional neighborhoods to the plan.
Very basic broadband service pulls information from the Internet at a speed of about 5 megabits per second. Gigabit providers offer download and upload speeds of 1,000 megabits per second. It’s a speed AT&T says enables a user to download 25 songs in a second or a high-definition movie in 36 seconds.
AT&T isn’t the only provider promising such speed. Telecom provider CenturyLink said last year that it had deployed gigabit fiber service in some Wake Forest neighborhoods. Google announced in January that it would bring its own high-speed fiber Internet network to Raleigh, Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner and Morrisville.
Along with offering the high-speed connections, the city also wants to make sure residents know how to use the services.
On Saturday, youth from Raleigh’s Digital Connectors program offered tutorials to residents who stopped by the center. Members of the group, which provides technology training for students ages 14 to 21, taught lessons on paying utility bills online or searching the Web for information about elected officials.
AT&T also made a $33,000 donation to the group.
Elizabeth Yvonne Sanders, 16, a junior at the Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy and a member of Digital Connectors, said she enjoys helping people learn to use new technology.
“It helps us realize we need to look around our community and see how the digital divide really affects us,” she said.