What happens when people don’t have access to the Internet with its wealth of information? Those of us with laptops tuned to WiFi and broadband, with smart phones that connect instantly to everything in this world (…and maybe beyond) and every person we want to reach, rarely think of those who can’t afford to be part of our cutting-edge electronic universe.
But there are vast numbers of people struggling economically who are on the far side of the “Digital Divide” and due to that disparity in Internet access, lack the information and connections that the more affluent have at their fingertips.
The “Digital Divide” DISPARITY - why does it matter?
Those suffering on the far side of the digital divide - without broadband access to information - are at a huge disadvantage. Communications technology and information make a dramatic difference in quality of life. Internet access is now essential to health care, education, job development, child care, nutrition and every aspect of life.
The digital divide is also widened by the QUALITY of Internet access. Lower-performance computers, lower-quality or high-priced connections, difficulty of obtaining technical assistance and lack of ability to afford the cost of connections also affects many people.
In many cities and other areas with high poverty rates, Wi-Fi isn’t available to teachers or students. Teens who need an online connection must seek out alternatives to fill out job and college applications, complete homework assignments and stay connected to the outside world. They may seek out people with “hot spot” phones and pay for their use or walk miles for a WiFi connection.
A “Digital Millennial” study gave students smartphones hooked up to Windows Mobile software that provides algebra help. Teachers said the phones turned average students into honors students!
However, smartphones aren’t the answer. Students and others can’t perform the same kind and quality of work on a smartphone as on a personal computer. Students can’t type or submit assignments. Lack of computer access to the Internet is a serious problem for long-term computer literacy and staying abreast of the opportunities life offers.
Lack of support for erasing the Digital Divide
According to author Jessica Goodman in “The Digital Divide is Still Leaving Americans Behind” (Mashable Spotlight) “…in large cities finding an Internet plan as low as $40 a month that actually meets the federal definition of broadband is like finding a cab in Times Square during a snowstorm.”
Last year the Federal Communications Commission reported that 100 million people in the United States lived in areas where they had access to broadband but did not subscribe.
“Having fast, reliable Internet access is a basic human right,” said Susan Crawford, telecommunications policy expert and former White House official. “It makes zero sense that in this nation people are not able to do school work or basic communication.” Crawford said many people cannot afford even $30 or $40 for a very standard connection. And in most places the price is far higher than that.
“It’s the marketplace’s fault,” said Crawford.
Educators across America get creative about providing students with Internet access. We applaud their efforts. Here’s a great example!
In Coachella Valley, California, school superintendent Darryl Adams discovered that most of his students don’t have Internet at home. They sat in their parents cars outside the school, accessing the WiFi or went to Starbucks. So he put Internet on the school’s 100 buses, parked them in various neighborhoods and is now turning salvaged cars into more mobile hot spots.
“Whatever it takes to get these kids connected, I will do,” said Adams. The graduation rate at the high school is up by eight percent.
Here’s to more creative approaches, unwavering commitment and national policy changes that erase the digital divide disparity and make Internet access a fact of life for everyone!
United Senergy tackles the Digital Divide
- Technology Conferences – US joins with established tech companies, start-ups, dot.coms, to bring the latest technology to people and communities.
- Tech for YOU! – partnerships with local non-profits, schools, universities, tech stores, sponsors, corporate businesses to bring computer labs and equipment – desktops, laptops, tablets – to consumers who can’t afford to buy them.
- KIDS On-Line – a technology conference for children and teens – celebrities, exciting equipment, emphasis on innovation and creativity via the high-tech world.
- Digital Divide Round Table – information technology experts, economists, science-technology reporters and those on either side of the digital divide sit down together to discuss the current situation, its impact on peoples’ lives and how to narrow the gap and offer greater technology-based opportunities to all.
- US Website Tech Info Center – how to access everything the world wide web has to offer – job search, educational opportunities, things to do, child care, money-saving strategies – using the US Website to achieve your goals!