Around the time the 20th century morphed into the 21st, you heard a good bit about the differences between rural and urban areas in how much access they had to the Internet. At that time the term was the “digital divide.” But since then, you haven’t heard too much about it, and you may have thought that the problems had been solved.
Unfortunately, they haven’t.
Steven Levy, who writes The Technologist column for Newsweek magazine, devotes this week’s column to the digital divide without ever using that term.
Levy notes that he spent some time in the Berkshires in Massachusetts this summer where he had to depend on dial-up rather than high-speed access. (I had a similar experience for two months in a rural part of East Tennessee where we were a half mile or so beyond the cable.)
Levy cites a Pew Internet and American Life Project study that reports that those in rural areas are only half as likely as urbanites to use high-speed access, and that continues to be a problem for these areas. Fast Internet access is becoming as essential as electricity and phone service. The Bush administration, he writes, has set a goal of having high-speed access in every home by 2007 but hasn’t done much to make that happen.
The availability of high-speed Internet access is important to business, education and the general quality of life. It is increasingly important to journalism and the mass media industries. Levy describes a proposal by two senators that would direct money from the telephone’s Universal Service Fund to funding broadband networks in unserved areas.
It’s great that new ideas might help extend broadband to the boonies, but why not hasten the process with a national policy that recognizes the importance of universal service, and invests wisely to give everyone access to the Net at geek-pleasing speeds?
Jim Stovall (posted Aug. 16, 2005)
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