The Digital Divide Is Now All About Affordable Data Access

NEWS ANALYSIS: The tech hardware industry, along with a vast number of organizations, has found a way to bridge the digital divide providing some kind of computer to nearly anyone who needs them. But those computers need access to data.

For all practical purposes, the digital divide in the western world has vanished. Computers and computing platforms are available to anyone, sometimes at very little cost, and sometimes for free. Training on how to use those devices is now readily available in schools and elsewhere, also for free. By the time students reach middle school, computer use is routine.

This is important to the global economy because computer literacy, as we used to call it, is a necessity for nearly any task in today’s world and is a part of most jobs in some way. While access to computing devices lags elsewhere in the world, it’s not lagging by much. But it seems that access to data, especially wireless access, hasn’t kept up.

And access to wireless data isn’t a problem just in the third world or among the urban poor. It’s a problem to anyone in the U.S. who doesn’t have a good enough job to afford $100 a month to pay for it. In the U.S., access to wireless data is something for the rich who live in areas where they can be connected. The poor, whether they live in the city or in rural areas, need not apply.

If you’re not at least fairly well-off, you can’t afford those pricey mobile share-everything plans. Even the low-cost, prepaid data plans for most carriers don’t go below $20 per month, which may not sound like a lot to you, but could be a week’s worth of bread and milk for a struggling family.

Meanwhile, hardware makers are stepping up to the challenge. According to our former sister publication, PC Magazine, Acer is getting ready to sell a 7-inch Android tablet for under $100. Amazon Kindle e-readers start at $69. Used desktop computers, which may not be the fastest or coolest, but which work well for Internet access are available at little or no cost to anyone who needs them from a wide variety of sources.

But then there’s the issue of Internet access. While you really need a computer these days for everything from homework to job hunting, you also need the data to go with it. And where do you get that? Those Kindle e-readers need WiFi which is at least available for free in a number of places from your public library toStarbucks. But you can’t lug that desktop computer to Starbucks. So what do you do?

If you’re poor then you have to hope that you live in a community that mandates the availability of cable service to everyone and that the mandated cable service is affordable. However cable service or DSL service, if that’s what you can get, starts at that same $20 a month.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...