The Digital Divide Is Now All About Affordable Data Access
The only alternative is wireline phone service which requires a slow analog modem and can cost as little as 11 dollars a month. But how can you do homework or look for jobs on an analog connection? The answer is that if it works at all, you will find that it takes a very long time to load a web page at 54 kbps. Good luck with that. But suppose that you’re poor and rural—or even not-so-poor and rural? The ugly truth about rural broadband service is that it’s mostly not there at all, except for pricy satellite services that start at about $40 per month for limited data plans. These plans do provide access, but not everyone can use them. And while there are government subsidies available, not everyone qualifies. But forget cable access. Cable companies have no interest in stringing lines sparsely-populated rural areas. What this boils down to is that if you live in the ‘burbs or in the city, you can get Internet access if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it, you’d best hope that you live near an area with free WiFi or municipal broadband. But if you don’t live in these areas, you’re out of luck unless you bring home a decent pay check. For the rural poor, the data divide is very real. Of course, many of you probably don’t care. You’re a tech person. You’re working in IT where salaries are good. You can afford the fastest network access available, along with an iPhone, an iPad and anything else you want to access data. This isn’t your problem, right?But maybe you do care. Maybe you’re in a position where your employer can put some pressure on communications providers to find a way to help those who need it in a meaningful way, such as low-or no-cost data access. Perhaps you can donate Internet access to shelters and employment centers. Or maybe you’re in a position where you can make this happen yourself. Either way, the data divide is fast becoming an economic tragedy that will separate a new class of have-nots from everyone else. Maybe in this season of giving, you can find a way.
But it is your problem. Any time a portion of the population is excluded from participating in the digital economy, it hurts the economy. In times of economic stress, this exclusion slows the recovery and limits the extent of the recovery. It also means that some portions of the economy aren’t able to compete.