Digital Divide Sucks

There are some people who still don’t have regular access to computers and the internet. This is the first part of a GovGirl video series exploring the concept, and its challenges for government.

Please comment with your thoughts on why the digital divide sucks and ideas for addressing it. Some communities are meeting this challenge in creative ways. Is the Federal broadband initiative a step in the right direction?

Digital Divide Infographic (described in video)

Using my family as an example, I put together this hi-tech infographic to explain the problem with the digital divide. Watch the video for a detailed description.

Don’t forget to comment below! What aspects of the digital divide should I cover in this video series?

(Originally posted at www.GovGirl.com)

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Sam Allgood

Mine will probably be an unpopular view and is taken from the perspective of a citizen and not that of a local govie … it is not the function of government at any level to eliminate the digital divide. That should be left up to the private sector, from whence the digital divide came. Especially in our challenging economic times, this is not something we should be tackling.

Sam Allgood

But if they’re going to do it, I would also like for the government to pay for my cable TV and upgrade it to HD!

Just joking … I don’t want to be dependent on the government for anything.

Kristy Dalton

@Sam Thanks for your comment – interesting perspective. I believe the connection to government is the fact that often times budget cuts means we focus more on pushing online, free communications, and cut things like citizen newsletters and direct mailings that reach people like seniors, who may not be online.

@Adam, thanks for sharing. The digital divide concept is indeed quite large, and relates to all disenfranchised citizens. One of my brothers, for instance, does not have a computer or internet access because he is living off disability income due to his cerebral palsy. He can only afford to make ends meet. My mom, on the other hand, is not online because she doesn’t think she will understand how to ‘use it’. There are many issues going on here.

A lot of people tell me – people who don’t have the internet can still get online – just go to the library! I’d like to do a video on how unpractical that is in reality. Especially since libraries started closing facilities and hours in this environment. I’m curious what other people think on this.

AJ Malik

Mobile ubiquity will help bridge the digital divide. Wireless Internet constitutes the last mile of Internet connectivity by connecting those whom are hard to reach through wired networks. It is the cheapest, easiest, and best way to get the power of the Internet. In fact, according to Pew, wireless Internet is becoming the connection of choice. Mobile Internet expands the realization of the power of the Internet – you can be connected to information wherever you are. Although, not all (nor the majority of) mobile devices yet have the capability to help close the digital divide, that is rapidly changing. Market driven technology will quickly evolve to enable all (if not the majority of) mobile devices to eventually become tomorrow’s primary computing platform. The smartphone will become the PC, the PC will become the server, the server will become the cloud, and the cloud will become the new app store. Cost, convenience, and portability are why mobile Internet will not only surpass home broadband, but will drive to help close the digital divide gap. Ubiquitous mobile access will considerably strengthen online engagement by enabling the masses to connect with others, satisfy information queries, and share content with others more than ever before.

Faye Newsham

My kids attend school in a large metro area with a high FARMS (lower income families) rate and a pretty big digital divide. With that said, when “events” at school promise assistance and computer access most families tell PTA that they have different ways of accessing including the library, school, mobile smart phones, etc. The bigger issue for them is internet and technology fluency divide. The example shown in an earlier GovLoop item tells the story of the bus driver who’s HR department moved all access to medical insurance information online and although he could own a computer had never needed to. He was lost on how to start, where to go, what to do. One solution discussed in that forum was for HR to have added a single terminal in the bus depot for the drivers and offered a class on how to access information. So, although it is untraditional access, our families in need are often more in need of “how to” than they are access itself. Interesting topic as always!

Kristy Dalton

@AJ, thanks for your thoughts. Mobile ubiquity sounds like a wonderful solution, and I hear stories of great successes with this in other countries where smart cell phones have already saturated society more than computers.

But it’s certainly not a lower cost solution here in the US, unless BIG changes are made. My cell phone bill, with the data plan required for internet access, costs me $80 per month. My internet plan for my home internet connection is less than half of that, at $35 per month.

In the current environment, accessing websites via mobile is painful in my experience. And I’ve got an HTV EVO with 4G! For this solution to the digital divide to reasonably work, most websites need to be mobile friendly. I looked through 45 small local government websites yesterday on another project, and I could barely find their mailing address – only a handful of these sites are optimized for the web. I see the potential in mobile, but we’ve got a LONG way to go.

@Faye, good point. Education and training are critical components of the digital divide as well. Even if they have the means, some people are either intimidated or uneducated about what to do to get online. I’ve you haven’t lived half your life with computers surrounding you, you’re at a loss.

Kristy Dalton

@Robert, thanks for sharing. I agree, most wouldn’t use internet to ‘participate in democracy’. However, we can expect them to use search engines to find information, and get news (all activities that rank higher than using the internet ‘just for fun’, according to Pew Internet.) I’m thinking of ‘citizens interacting with their government’ in terms of getting services they need, applying for jobs, etc. This is from the local government perspective, though, where we provide direct services to citizens, like public safety, senior services, youth programs, recreation, sewer and other utilities. At the federal level, people sometimes only interact with the national government at tax time 🙂

Brett White

At least on the municipal level where I work, traditional outlets (newsletters, brochures, outreach, City Hall itself) adequately cover the small percentage of “have nots”. About the only area I can think of where the “haves” are the only beneficiaries is (as you mentioned) the employment process as it is exclusively handled online. However, most positions here at the City require some sort of computer skills. If you have a computer, you most likely have internet. If you don’t have a computer, you most likely don’t have the necessary skills for the job.

I don’t see a big issue for us, although I believe our “haves” percentage is well above 79%.

Kristy Dalton

@Brett, you’re lucky to work for a municipality that has not yet cut traditional direct mailings such as newsletters. Even so, the volume of material communicated from governments online is difficult to replicate in its entirety. Your comment about “If you don’t have a computer, you most likely don’t have the necessary skills for the job” absolutely shows the challenge for people who do not have this technology. They’re behind in many ways.

@Adam, here’s a good place to start: http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/Digital-Divide.aspx I bet Govloop has some good previous discussions, too

James Ferreira

AJ I am in your boat. Kristy I think you have highlighted that we need to rein in the crazy graphics and other needless flash in gov sites. Sure they look pretty but does that add functionality? If fancy is really that necessary then having a mobile duplicate may be what works best. And developers… please, no one uses IE on a phone, web standards are the key.

I really wanted to know what it would be like to go mobile only (3G) and have made it 3 weeks now. I have given up a lot of entertainment at home but when I am working everything I use does very well. I can even do a virtual desktop hosted in the office for heavy lifting. My average speed is 250k and the devices made for mobile, iPad, Xoom, and Chrome CR-48 do much better than a full laptop.

I think what we really need to fill in the gaps is to put the signal out there and make sure the content provided is as optimized as possible.

In the meantime, why don’t we have Internet cafes? Last time I was in Mexico we lived off those in the remote towns. For fun what if we put iPad like devices in phone booths? Like a red box only with a browser.