Economy

Some West Louisville residents will soon have access to free internet.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Wednesday introduced the PNC Gigabit Experience Center, which will provide free internet access and laptops for rent at the Louisville Central Community Center in Russell.

Fischer said the center, and future changes, could be the biggest investment in West Louisville since after the flood of 1937.

“The city is a platform for giving every citizen, regardless of your neighborhood, regardless of your zip code, an opportunity to realize their full human potential,” he said.

The center’s pilot version will be open through July, offering free public wi-fi, technology-based training and laptop rentals.

The center is one of many investments planned for a neighborhood troubled by inequality.

A 2014 study by the now-defunct Network Center for Community Change found 58 percent of Russell’s population lived in poverty, with a median income of $14,457. That year’s national poverty average was 14 percent.

A 2017 Pew study found nearly half of adults with annual incomes below $30,000 don’t have home broadband services or a traditional computer.

Kevin Smith, CEO of the Louisville Central Community Center, said the center would become a focal point for change and economic development in Russell.

“[The gigabit center] is a way to attract investment to this part of our community that is so sorely in need of additional investment,” Smith said.

To further address inequalities associated with the so-called digital divide, Fischer unveiled a digital inclusion plan to act as a blueprint toward expanding internet access across the city. The gigabit center is one of many steps in that plan, which proposes to improve connectivity, teach digital skills and provide hardware to include citizens online.

What’s more, Fischer’s budget proposal calls for $5 million to be spent on expanding KentuckyWired, a fiber optics system, across West Louisville. And Google Fiber also plans to introduce ultra-high speed internet to Louisville in months.

A broad revitalization plan for Russell is set for the coming years. It will be funded in large part by a $30 million federal grant city officials accepted late last year.