Digital Divide, Mobile Divide, Knowledge Divide, Access Divide, Are We a Nation of Opportunity?

TECHNOLOGY         We Still Have a Digital Divide and it is growing!!

In recent years, it’s become clear among academics, community organizers and government policymakers that addressing the issue of access is just the first step, not the whole solution, to the digital divide.

Once connected, some people don’t have the skills to make full use of the Internet, or don’t participate in social and civic life online because they’re too busy working two jobs to make ends meet.

The barriers are numerous and complex, meaning that the problem remains persistent, and not subject to a single, easy fix.

But without universal broadband adoption and full participation in digital life, to use one example, governments must maintain digital and paper systems that are duplicative and wasteful. The divide also makes it hard for schools to embrace digital tools, knowing some students have them and some don’t. And with more job applications moving online, being on the wrong side of the digital divide can make it harder to get a job.

“The size, the nature, and the endurance of the digital divide has a lot of impact on the U.S.,” said Tessie Guillermo, president and CEO of ZeroDivide, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that works with community groups across the U.S. to address issues of digital exclusion. “In terms of global competition, innovation and economic power, if 20 percent of our people are not on the Internet, their contribution to the economic vitality of the U.S. is not being maximized.”

When you can't get it in school use a technology center


Back in 2010, the FCC released a National Broadband Plan that was an ambitious attempt to reach universal broadband adoption while addressing the many complexities of the digital divide. Rather than fading away, the FCC made three important announcements this year that show it still has momentum:

  • The Universal Service Fund that for decades had been dedicated to telephone adoption was transformed into the Connect America Fund, which will generate $4.5 billion to help millions get access to broadband connections.
  • Connect to Compete, an agreement with broadband providers to create a $9.95-a-month plan for families that are eligible for federal lunch programs.
  • And the creation of a nonprofit public-private partnership with a long list of telecommunications and tech companies that will provide digital literacy and skill training.Remarkably, it’s all being done without cutting other services, or raising any taxes. And while not revealing details, Genachowski said he expects more progress in 2012.We are still a long way from closing the digital divide, to be sure. But by keeping the topic on the national agenda while also managing to make progress should be considered a huge victory for Genachowski and the FCC.
  • Barriers to Use

    Affordability: 36 percent of non-adopters, or 28 million adults, said
    they do not have home broadband because the monthly fee is too
    expensive (15 percent), they cannot afford a computer, the installation
    fee is too high (10 percent), or they do not want to enter into a
    long-term service contract (9 percent). According to survey
    respondents, their average monthly broadband bill is $41.

    Digital Literacy: 22 percent of non-adopters, or 17 million adults,
    indicated that they do not have home broadband because they lack the
    digital skills (12 percent) or they are concerned about potential
    hazards of online life, such as exposure to inappropriate content or
    security of personal information (10 percent)


    Relevance: 19 percent of non-adopters, or 15 million adults, said they
    do not have broadband because they say that the Internet is a waste of
    time, there is no online content of interest to them or, for dial-up
    users, they are content with their current service.

    Digital Hopefuls, who make up 22 percent of non-adopters, like the idea
    of being online but lack the resources for access.
    Few have a computer and, among those who use one, few feel comfortable
    with the technology. Some 44 percent cite affordability as a barrier to
    adoption and they are also more likely than average to say digital
    literacy are a barrier. This group is heavily Hispanic and has a high
    share of African-Americans.

    Julius Genachowski

Literacy today depends on understanding the multiple media that make up our high-tech reality and developing the skills to use them effectively

Prior to the 21st century, literate defined a person’s ability to read and write, separating the educated from the uneducated. With the advent of a new millennium and the rapidity with which technology has changed society, the concept of literacy has assumed new meanings. Experts in the field suggest that the current generation of teenagers—sometimes referred to as the E-Generation—possesses digital competencies to effectively navigate the multidimensional and fast-paced digital environment. For generations of adults who grew up in a world of books, traveling through cyberspace seems as treacherous and intimidating as speaking a new language. In fact, Prensky1 recognized such non-IT-literate individuals as burdened with an accent—non-native speakers of a language, struggling to survive in a strange new world.

We who have technology complain about or love the various changes that happen on a daily basis with the use of the Internet.

Internet Access A Right!!

Vint Cerf had some reflection on the state of the art and whether or not it is a digital right. He said.”

Although some countries around the world argue that Internet access is a fundamental right, one of the “fathers of the Internet,” Vint Cerf, doesn’t see it that way.

“Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself,” Cerf, who is also a Google’s chief Internet evangelist, wrote yesterday in an editorial in The New York Times. “There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things.”

It is no secret that the recession has hit our nation hard, particularly in low-income and minority communities. Naturally, many government institutions and private organizations have turned to broadband to help them cut costs by streamlining various processes and keeping productivity levels high. In general, this is a productive use of a transformative technology – and embracing it to improve efficiency is certainly the right thing for these organizations to do. But what about the millions of Americans who lack a home computer and who remain unconnected to broadband? How are they supposed to apply for government benefits online, access Web-based job search sites, and otherwise participate in this digital revolution? The short answer is that those who remain unconnected are relegated to second-class digital citizenship. Enhancing the broadband adoption rate across every demographic group must be priority number o

ne for policymakers at every level of government. Without more robust broadband adoption, too many Americans will be stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. Social justice and continued economic prosperity demand a concerted effort to get these non-adopters on a path toward first-class digital citizenship.

Links to Sources

My ideas for education have not changed . The technology has. How can minority kids learn computational thinking, and new supercomputing ideas if they are not connected?

One thought on “Digital Divide, Mobile Divide, Knowledge Divide, Access Divide, Are We a Nation of Opportunity?

  1. Should Internet access be seen as a fundamental human right, in the same category as the right to free speech or clean drinking water? The United Nations says it should, but in a New York Times op-ed, one of the fathers of the Internet argues it shouldn’t. Vint Cerf is the co-creator of the TCP/IP standard the global computer network is built on, so when he says something about the impact of the Internet, it’s probably worth paying attention to. But is he right? And what are the implications if he’s wrong?

    Cerf’s position is somewhat surprising because, as even he acknowledges in his piece for the NYT, the events of the “Arab Spring” in 2011 reinforced just how powerful internet access can be when it comes to enabling dissidents in places like Egypt and Tunisia to co-ordinate their efforts and bring down authoritarian governments — despite attempts by dictators in those countries to shut down their access. Cerf is also the “chief Internet evangelist” at Google, so it seems a little odd he would be downplaying the need for widespread internet access and the benefits that it brings to society.

    Cerf: Access is not a right, but it enables other rights

    In a nutshell, Cerf’s argument seems to be that if we define Internet access itself as a right, we are placing the focus on the wrong thing. The ‘Net, he says, is just a technological tool that enables us to exercise other fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech or access to information — and rights should not be awarded to tools, but to the ends that they enable us to reach. As he puts it:

    [T]echnology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things.

    In the past, says Cerf, we might have seen access to a horse as being a fundamental right in some way, since horses were a requirement for making a living. But the important thing to protect in that equation would be the right to make a living, he says, not necessarily the right to own a horse. Later in his essay, Cerf says a case could be made for seeing access to the Internet as a civil right — that is, a right awarded to us by governments, rather than one that exists inherently in us as human beings — but he shies away from arguing that this should be protected by governments.

    One of the arguments against seeing Internet access as a fundamental right is that doing this places all kinds of potential burdens on society — including the potential costs of delivering access to millions or potentially billions of people. Although Cerf doesn’t raise this point, author and former Cato Institute director Adam Thierer makes that case in a post at the Technology Liberation Front, saying anyone who supports Internet access as a right has to answer two important questions: “Who or what pays the bill for classifying the Internet or broadband as a birthright entitlement? [and] what are the potential downsides for competition and innovation from such a move?”

    What does seeing access as a right mean?

    Thierer argues that not only could ensuring that kind of fundamental right bankrupt governments or societies if followed to its logical conclusion (and should it be just simple access, or is high-speed a right as well?) but that areas where things are determined to be “essential” services often suffer from a lack of competition. In other words, Thierer says, by promoting Internet access for all as a right, governments could actually wind up retarding progress by making it difficult for new entrants to compete:

    [C]ompetition often doesn’t develop — or is sometimes prohibited outright — in sectors or for networks that are declared “essential” facilities or technological entitlements. That’s not because they are natural monopolies, rather, it’s because the policies that lawmakers and regulators put in place to ensure universal service ultimately have the counter-productive impact of retarding new entry.

    But whether we define Internet access as a fundamental human right or simply a civil right, aren’t we taking a risk by not calling it a right at all? I think we are — and the risk is that it makes it easier for governments to place restrictions on access or even shut it down entirely (a point the United Nations made in its recent report). As JD Rucker notes in a blog post, seeing Internet access as a right is no different from seeing access to medical treatment or clean drinking water as a right. Cars may not be a right, but the ability to move about freely certainly is — and the internet is more like the highway system than it is a car or a horse.

    That’s not to say governments have to bankrupt themselves to ensure that everyone has fiber to the curb by their house, only that protections and principles need to be in place that make it available wherever possible — just as we try to make housing and food available to all, not necessarily mansions and high-end restaurants. The Internet is a fundamental method of communication and connection, and is becoming more fundamental all the time, as we’ve seen in the Middle East and elsewhere. Seeing it as a right is an important step towards making it available to as many people as possible.

    Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Ryan Franklin and Ray Dehler

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