Monday, August 19, 2013

"Digital Divide Redux"

From the New York Times
The New York Times today runs an update story on what we used to call the digital divide. For those who've followed closely the news is not new but if you've been away from the story for awhile the trend is heartening: close to 86% of the nation has a regular connection to the internet and all but the last 2% or so have some potential access to broadband. These sort of figures, out of statistical necessity mean that the various gaps—racial, income, rural, and age—that have concerned net activists have closed but still remain some of the most significant predictors of who has not made the jump. But while the gaps may have closed the widespread use of the web and the movement toward web-only access for information about things like government services and job applications has worsened the consequences for those that remain without a reliable connection.

Growth is flattening out and with availability largely eliminated and utility continuing to rise the issue has become one of how to get the remaining users online. Some people still don't see the usefulness of the net in their lives or simply don't know how to effectively use it while others simply find it very difficult to afford. That suggest the two basic ways to get more people online that this story highlights: 1) community-based training and 2) lower prices. Unsurprisingly both tactics have been tried and both work.

Lafayette is one of the few places where the community can address both these issues themselves—if we choose to. Not long ago our utility eliminated the 44 dollar minimum that had made it too expensive for some to get started. But that example demonstrates how we can do more. We own our own telecommunications utility and we can lower prices for entry-level access and provide training and help getting online ourselves; we do not need the help of any outside corporation or agency.

All that remains is to decide to act.

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