Monday, October 11, 2004

Closing the Digital Divide, Lafayette Style

The Cell Phone Model—A Lagniappe Plan

If the phrase "digital divide" is unfamiliar the idea is not: "Thems as has, gets." Access to information technology divides the information haves from the have nots. Typically, as broadband technology comes to a community the higher speeds, while a good thing in itself, also has the effect of increasing the gap between the haves and the have nots. Those who have flock to empowering communication technologies, and those that have not fall behind in this new arena.

But Lafayette is not typical, and promises to be less typical yet. Joey Durel, speaking at Councilman Williams' Real Talk meeting tonight, talked about the possibilities for narrowing instead of increasing the digital divide in Lafayette using some of the most concrete language we've seen to date. He's started talking to citizens...and he's confident enough to have also talked to ABC news about it, he announced tonight! While tentative plan, still needing to pass financial muster, the outline is visible: Lafayette is hoping to follow a cell phone model and give away a computer with long-term triple play contracts.

The cell phone model follows the simple and famous logic of razor blades. —Give away the razor and make all your money on follow-up sales of blades. LUS is hoping to be able to give away computers with long-term contracts and make up the cost with the expanded sale of its services. Add to that universal service—a utility will run service to anyone who wants it unlike private providers—and a cost that Durel says will be from 25 to 45 percent cheaper than current costs and you have a recipe nearly as good as your grandmother's gumbo. High Tech and Broadband that really is available to all and that brings the community together instead of separating it.

Whether or not this version can be made to fly the more important point is the determination that is being shown to take on the problem in a direct way. If you can't quite afford to give it away then sell the razor/computer at a serious discount pay out the difference as a few dollars each month on your telecom bill. Or embed it in the settop box. Regardless, all that is finally required is the heart to do it. And Durel, at least, seems to have it.

But the basic idea is neither strange—it's a standard ploy to develop a market—nor financially irrational—with 278 dollar Linux-based WalMart computers and free open source apps the cost of developing a deep local market could even be a good business decision.

Do you remember Lagniappe? That's Lafayette. Just a little something extra.

Go LUS!

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