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Atlanta preparing to help residents cross digital divide for 2020 Census

pittsburgh area

About a quarter of Atlanta households didn't have broadband internet service, according to a recent Census estimate. Knowing the location of households that will need help accessing the internet to participate in the 2020 Census is a challenge Atlanta officials say they are addressing. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from the mayor’s office regarding the timeline for 2020.

Atlanta’s digital divide will present challenges to getting an accurate count in the 2020 Census, a city official said Tuesday. Another challenge is to get residents to overcome aversion to participating in the Census, an Atlanta City Councilmember said at the same meeting.

pittsburgh area

About a quarter of Atlanta households didn’t have broadband internet service in a count conducted through 2017, according to a Census estimate. Knowing the location of these households in order to help them respond to the Census is a challenge. Credit: David Pendered

The interchange highlights the multiple challenges Atlanta faces in getting an accurate count of residents. The count is important it is used to determine everything from federal funding for various projects to the number of congressional seats the city has to the boundaries of districts for the Atlanta City Council and Board of Education.

Meantime, the Census remains embroiled in a number of controversies. The U.S. Supreme Court announced Feb. 15 it will hear a case about a citizenship question added by the Trump administration, a question critics contend will depress participation; a ruling is expected by June 30.

In his remarks Tuesday, Rashad Taylor, the city’s chief equity officer, told the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee that the digital divide would be an issue and that the administration is working on the issue.

“We’re going to make sure the digital divide does not hamper us in the City of Atlanta,” Taylor said.

After Taylor had concluded his remarks and a few committee members had spoken, Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet offered her view that a huge issue for the Census count will be getting residents to respond.

“We have to dispel the myth of what happened last time, when everyone said, ‘Don’t answer your door,’” Overstreet said. “We need to make sure everyone in Atlanta answers the door and goes out of the way to be counted. … We definitely have grown as a city and that’s going to have to show.”

No one followed up on Overstreet’s comment. Taylor said he’ll be happy to provide another update in the coming months.

The digital divide is a real issue in Atlanta.

The Census estimated that just three-quarters of all households had a broadband internet connection in the years 2013 to 2017. An estimated 87 percent of households had a computer. The response doesn’t shed any light as to the capacity of that computer in the home.

Taylor offered a few of the working ideas for helping folks who can’t respond to the digital Census questionnaire. Committee Chair Natalyn Moseby Archibong added a few thoughts of her own, which Taylor said are appropriate.

Taylor said plans still being devised include enlisting different types of locations that residents frequent and where computers and internet access could be provided.

Some working ideas include senior centers, community centers and recreation centers. Other options include local businesses, whose owners may be willing to provide space for a computer and an internet connection.

In addition, the city intends to help residents who want to complete the Census questionnaire on a paper form. Such forms are still available, Taylor said, but the Census will provide them only upon a request.

Archibong’s ideas included grocery stores, beauty salons and barbershops.

Taylor cited a few key dates in the lead-up to the Census:

  • April 1 – A kickoff rally on National Census Day is scheduled at 11 a.m. in the Atrium at City Hall, to be followed by a “lunch and learn” for the first 200 civic leaders who arrive to hear the presentation by Census officials;
  • A few weeks after the rally – Census campaign headquarters is to open with a rally and kickoff event at the Dunbar Recreation Center, at 477 Windsor St.;
  • January 2020 – Residents will begin receiving their Census cards and can go online immediately to complete the questionnaire, wait and respond later, or call for a paper form.

The mayor’s office provided following details Wednesday:

“Mid-March 2020  – Residents are invited to respond

“Individual Housing Units will be invited by either:

  • “Mail or Hand delivery (PO Box, non-USPS delivery- this operation is called Update Leave);

“If no response

  • “Reminder Postcard or Leave Questionnaire

“If no response

  1. “Then Paper Questionnaire

“(if you do not get this invitation respond anyway)

“March 23  – Self-Response begins and continues through July 2020

  • “(Reference Date = where you live on April 1, 2020)

“April 1, 2020 – Census Day

“April 2- Late July – Nonresponse Follow-up

  • “(Housing Units can continue to self-respond during this time)

“Dec. 31, 2020  – Apportionment counts are delivered to the President”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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