While reading Bowling for Broadband 2: Toward Citizen-Centric, Broadband-Based E-Government, a ten page report issued by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, I was struck by this paragraph (emphasis mine):
Recent developments in the market place for Internet access threaten to render the old online vs. offline digital-divide debate a moot point. The nearly 30% of Americans who donâ€™t have any type of Internet access can now be considered hardcore Internet non-adopters. The Internet has been a high-profile part of the nationâ€™s culture for a decade and monthly dial-up access has been universally available for well under $10.00 per month for nearly as long. So, it is hard to make a case that these Americans have not made the intentional choice to stay off line or use someone elseâ€™s access. However, broadband providers are still optimistic they can persuade this demographic of the value of broadband. A recent study by Leichtman Research Group shows that the coaxial cable and DSL providers are not simply engaged in a zero-sum competition for each otherâ€™s customers. They are actively marketing to the 30% of offline Americans and the 28% who use dialup access with a wide range of packages and prices that are competitive even with â€œenhancedâ€ dial-up services.
Taking the Census Bureau’s latest estimate, there are 299,566,801 American citizens. That means there are over 89,000,000 Americans who do not use the Internet at all, and more than 83,000,000 citizens who currently can’t do better than a 56K modem. If you’ve got a 56K modem, HP estimates that it takes two minutes to download a 768K document. For a not untypical 5MB government document, our 83,000,000 dialup users will have to wait 15 minutes to see the file. That isn’t real access.
While Congress, the Government Printing Office and too many documents librarians can’t wait for the totally electronic future, such a future will leave over a 170,000,000 million people behind simply because they do not have quick and easy access to broadband. Is that fair? If not, what can we do about it? Should we do anything. Should offline and underconnected people be excluded from knowing about their gov’t if they underconnectedness is something under their control?
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe in digital government information as an important access tool. Just not the only access tool. Especially when it looks like it will be sole-source access through federal servers.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.