Digital Divide? Or is it? It is. In Some Cases.

This chart from Pew Research (via Erica) raises some interesting points.

Bandwidth - Dial-up vs Broadband

I know people who are part of the 30% of non-broadband or dial-up crowd. They have:

– great bandwidth at work, don’t want to spend $50/month for internet so they can spend their evenings on the web too.

– Neighbors with open WiFi networks.

– Modern smartphones or tablets

– Coffee shops, bars, and restaurants with great WiFi nearby.

That may account for some of the no internet at home crowd (and perhaps why home broadband penetration seems to have plateaued), but that’s far from everyone. Many people who could really use access don’t have it and don’t have easy access to it nearby (or a job where they can do some web surfing that would improve their lives [smarter shopping, finding a new job, learning a new skill, finding out what their kids are up to on social media]).

I recently ran into a woman from Somalia at Marshall & Lowry across the street from Tony Jaros’. She was looking or Snelling Ave. As in, she took the wrong bus from Riverside and found herself in NE Minneapolis instead of the Midway area of St Paul. She had a dumb phone, and was attempting to find an organization that provides free/cheap computers to people in need. I pulled out my Android phone and showed her a map of where she was vs. where she meant to be, then showed her the bus options to get there. Then offered to call her an Uber.

I’ve done exactly what she did (taken the wrong bus). But, I have the resources in my pocket to recover from my mistakes far easier than she does (and, to realize things are off quicker since I can see myself move on a map in real time when I’m on a bus). She’s not stupid (we all make mistakes like that), but her access to information is far different than mine.

Multiply that by the dozens, if not hundreds, of internet enabled decisions one makes throughout the day when armed with the technology, and it’s pretty clear that people without the internet in their home or in their pocket are going through life with some major hurdles that could be easily removed if we wanted to level the playing field.

Personally, I support the Dig Once Executive Order and would like to see fiber installed in every street in the country as streets are rebuilt (and hopefully faster than that). Use of information changes dramatically based on access to information, and access to information varies from virtually inaccessible to painfully barely accessible for far too many people.

5 thoughts on “Digital Divide? Or is it? It is. In Some Cases.”

  1. A friend who works with low income single mothers asked me to download some application forms for Sears, Target, Rainbow and SuperAmerica. None of them have downloadable forms. You can apply online or in person.

    Hard not to think that they’re partially screening applicants, weeding out those without computer skills (helpful when operating a cash register). I wouldn’t have thought this had I not struck out four times in a row. Apparently corporations love people who can fill out online forms, leaving the computerless at a disadvantage.

  2. You both bring up some great thoughts. Did you see this recent article in TC Daily Planet. It is about waiting in line to use computers at the Franklin Library. We had some friends who went for awhile without Internet just using their smartphones.

  3. Ed – it’s interesting reading this from a Minneapolis perspective. The digital divide has a different impact in rural Itasca County where I live. Grand Rapids is a well connected fiber to door city and much of the rest of the county struggles with broadband or expensive, inconsistent satellite. My wife and I work from home on family land in the woods. Here we make sacrifices because we both need good Internet. At least we can afford the overpriced sat packages. Neighbors who are working poor simply go without. They live in a different world, certainly a different economy. I could go on. This is rural electrification all over again, this time with a namby pamby concern over the lack of 500 customers per sq mile. The customers are there. They will be there in greater numbers. Our lack of national initiative will be judged harshly… Unless!

  4. @Mark, that’s a shame to hear that. Each of those companies employs a ton of people who’s jobs don’t depend on having computer skills, so it seems like they’re limiting their labor pool if the bar is higher to apply than to do a job.

    @crossn81, thanks for the link. I’ve been in the East Lake Library near closing time, when the majority of patrons were using computers and stress was building because they were about to be cut off for the night due to the library’s limited hours.

    @Aaron, great points. I did a bike ride through Duluth, Silver Bar, Ely, Virginia and Hibbing a few years back while packing a smartphone, and found that the internet I’m used to having in my pocket was missing in large parts of the Range. A place without fast, reliable internet access is uninhabitable for me. Reliable internet and an Amazon Prime account would making living just about anywhere in the USA much more habitable.

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