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What Blockbuster Video Can Tell Us About Austin’s Digital Divide

Flickr user trebomb,
While Blockbuster Video has fallen due to online video, the stores are doing well in a less digitally-connected part of Austin.

Update: This week, Blockbuster Video announced it is closing its 300 remaining retail stores. It’s a bitter end for the rental chain, founded in Dallas, which once had 9,000 stores.

Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood contains two of the city’s three final Blockbuster stores. And unlike the company as a whole, those stores are thriving.

In the story below, KUT examines how forces behind the chain’s closure – the Internet and the rise of streaming video – are the same forces that have kept Dove Spring’s Blockbuster stores open for years.

Original story (Oct. 4): When was the last time you rented something from a Blockbuster Video?

Austin City Council member Laura Morrison’s recollection probably speaks for most of us. “My memory doesn’t go that far these days,” she says.

But in the mostly poor, mostly immigrant community of Dove Springs, business is booming. Two of Austin’s three remaining Blockbuster stores service Dove Springs. 

Customer after customer at one Blockbuster in Dove Springs talked about why they believe the store is still viable in southeast Austin. Gerald Holiday believes it’s in part because Internet access in Dove Springs is limited. He says most of his friends rely on their phones for Internet access, although, he says “the streaming isn’t all that great.” So for many, online movie streaming through Netflix or Hulu is a no go.
Council member Morrison says reasons like that are why the city’s embarking on a broad technological survey of its neighborhoods, to put together what she calls “a digital inclusion strategic plan for the city of Austin.”

Another way to more evenly disperse tech across Austin is Google Fiber. The high-speed Internet service will launch in Austin next year, and the company has hired a “Technology Inclusion” expert. That person will look at parts of the city where there isn’t much of a choice between renting and streaming. 

This story is a part of KUT’s reporting series on Dove Springs. Read and listen to more: Dove Springs: Turning the Corner

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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