Silicon Beach and the Digital Divide

Thursday, August 10, 2017 Written by 
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By Veronica Mackey


Silicon Beach.  If you haven’t yet heard of it, you should know that this hotspot for tech-driven companies it is closer in distance than you think.  It is driving up property values and creating thousands of new jobs, and is being blamed for displacing renters and small businesses. 


Unlike Silicon Valley in Northern California, home of Google and Facebook, Silicon Beach is not overwhelmingly geared toward technology jobs.  Rather, the area tends to have a more diversified economy where tourism, finance, and/or other industries also play a major role.  


According to Wikipedia, Silicon Beach is the Westside region of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, home to over 500 tech startup companies, with emphasis on the coastal strip north of LAX to the Santa Monica Mountains.   Major technology companies like Google,  Yahoo!, YouTube, BuzzFeed, Facebook, and AOL have opened offices in the region. 


While the rapid growth of tech companies has boosted the quality of life in such areas as Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Venice, Culver City, pockets of Downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood, cities to the south and east are lagging behind. 


The tendency of companies to congregate in these centrally-located, high income areas has raised concerns about the feasibility of racial minorities joining the workforce, as they tend to live in further outlying areas.


One of the biggest reasons for the digital divide has to do with the uneven distribution of fiber optic lines, which is the gold standard of Internet connectivity. A new study has found that fast, high-capacity fiber-optic lines are hard to find in areas south and east of Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Westchester, Santa Monica, Culver City, Venice and Manhattan Beach.  


Some smaller, poorer cities cannot afford fiber optics because it is expensive to install.  So it’s no coincidence that these cities are not up to speed with smart technology.  And until more investments are made in areas like South Los Angeles, richer cities will become richer and poorer cities will become poorer.  


There is technology available today that can download 25 songs in 1 second.  Without equal access to high speed data, Manhattan Beach might be forewarned against an energy crisis while Compton residents could be literally in the dark.


Understanding the need for fiber optics to meeting future demands and building a stronger workforce in less affluent cities requires a shift in thinking. Cities have to think of fiber optics as a necessity, like air and water. 


Inglewood, Redondo Beach, and El Segundo are working quickly to lay down extensive fiber networks, along with Riverside County, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Huntington Beach, Carlsbad, Ontario and Culver City, according to a Los Angeles Times article.


While Google, Snapchat, Yahoo!, Facebook and other major companies in Silicon Beach can afford to buy their own broadband communication systems, small local governments need to work together so they, too, can afford to build the technology infrastructure.


Broadband Internet providers like Spectrum and AT&T continue to compete for customers, while some cities have begun to install their own fiber optic lines and provide direct access to residents.  Beverly Hills, for example, provides fiber optic technology to homes. 


In the future, and even now Southern California will become a cluster of “smart cities” using technology to operate self-driving cars and to find parking spaces that double as car charging ports. 


Silicon Beach will obviously benefit local communities, as cities will profit from investments, and tax revenues.  But there is a downside.  Since Snapchat moved to Venice, rents in the already pricy area have risen out of control.  



According to an article in L.A. Curbed (March 31, 2015):  “In this single wave of growth, Snapchat will displace about three dozen renters in the multiple buildings they're moving into.  It's not clear which addresses and suite numbers exactly Snapchat is going to occupy, but at the complex on Abbot Kinney, they're snatching up about 40,000 square feet, leaving roughly 6,700 square feet of the space alone.”


Snapchat bought ocean view property in the area, which was rented to their employees. Rising rents forced some residents and mom–and-pop proprietors out.  Residents complain about not having enough parking.


It’s hard for city officials to argue with “progress” when technology from Silicon Beach companies can potentially create tens of thousands of new jobs, enhance crime fighting and bring major economic investments.  Casualties of displaced renters and small businesses, and an even wider digital divide are realities that deserve attention.  


At the lightning-fast pace in which technology is growing, the sooner, the better.


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