How Would You Recommend Closing the Digital Divide?

The following is an excerpt from the “The State of Communications GovLoop Guide,” which you can view here. In the guide, we highlight the top 10 communications trends impacting government.

Technology plays a tremendous role in our day-to-day lives. Much of our communication now takes place over the web, and having access to a computer and the Internet is critical to being successful. The digital divide can be looked at through a variety of lenses, depending on which segment of the population you are considering.

Although great strides have been made in closing the digital divide, there are still some key challenges. The digital divide can encompass everything from prohibitive costs of computers and software, limited accessibility to Internet in certain areas of the country, and lack of technology education, especially for disadvantaged groups.

Open Government challenges agencies to use technology to be more transparent, participatory and collaborative as to how it meets the demands of citizens. The one problem that government officials face is that no level of technology will ever help to close the digital divide. Government officials need to remember that although technology is valuable, it is not a replacement for traditional methods of communication. In some cases, technology can exacerbate accessibility challenges to already under-served populations.

There are many challenges related to removing the digital divide and mitigating its effects. One particular issue that the federal government has addressed is providing broadband access to rural and low-income communities. Providing access to broadband would be a critical step for the nation and help alleviate some symptoms of the digital divide. Although the government has reported success in improving broadband access, a remaining obstacle continues to be cost of broadband and computers. There have been some promising initiatives, which have used smart phones and taken advantage of new technology to provide low-income citizens with access to the internet.

To read more and learn about the top trends in government communications, be sure to view the guide here. I’d love to hear what you believe are some of the challenges to close the digital divide.

What strategies would you recommend to close the digital divide?

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Corey McCarren

Have public libraries that are outfitted with computers which are up-to-date and that the library has wifi. Also, make sure the library is highly accessible by public transportation at peak times.

Julie Chase

“One particular issue that the federal government has addressed is providing broadband access to rural and low-income communities.”

Is my internet cost going to go up? How will this be paid for? Nice idea….but who’s paying the bill?

There have been some promising initiatives, which have used smart phones and taken advantage of new technology to provide low-income citizens with access to the internet.

I don’t have a “smartphone”, can’t afford it, and I work. Who is going to pay for all these “smartphones”?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m not a Republican.

Biff LeVee

Smartphones are helping to narrow the digital divide–Nielson reports that smart phones have more than a 50% share of mobile phones in the United States. But we have work to do by making more of our sites and content ready for mobile.

Kathleen Smith

I think there needs to be more classes done on Public Television on how to cross bridge over the digital divide. I know this sounds crazy, but we need to reach those who are not getting access to the internet and its applications across many cultural, generational and location gaps.

This is not only affecting issues like voting but also employment. Most recruitment tools these days are geared toward social media, mobile and online applications which creates a discrimination against talented workers who do not have access to broadband, mobile or social media because of economic, cultural or training reasons. Our country will effectively lose generations of skills, talent and human data only because we didn’t provide the education and training to those who can’t access the digital continent

Henry Brown

Part of the problem: COST and the resistance to closing the gap by the major cable/telephone companies…

From the Seattle Times:

Providing fast Internet access is seen as key to improving quality of life, attracting entrepreneurs and nourishing business. Yet few cities have gotten it done, challenging the telecom industry.

Forget about Seattle’s grand plans for a city-sponsored, superfast broadband network.

Seattle has quietly given up, ending nearly a decade of blue-ribbon commissions, reams of studies and public outreach.

Since 2004, residents were tantalized by the prospect of affordable, fiber-optic service that would offset the near monopoly of Comcast and boost creativity, collaboration and innovation.

Julie Chase

Yes, Andrew, I see the question has come up. However, no one dares to ask “How is it going to be paid for?”

There are already programs in place for free phones to low income people. I can’t afford a “smartphone”, so who is going to pay for “smartphones” for people who can’t afford a basic cell phone? Yeah, the taxpayers, that’s who and they are getting mighty teed off at all the “freebies”. As a fed employee I’m already a target and get bad press.

The major cable/telephone companies, “if forced” will jack the prices up on those who are already paying customers. And that is not fair.

The schools in this country provide digital learning from K-12 and beyond. Not sure how “divided” it really is with thousands of kids using computers every day in school. For parents there are free adult education classes in every community at the local community college. In most cases transporation is also provided in larger communities. So if one wants to “learn” there are programs already in place. Adult education is also free to senior citizens. My 84 yr old mother can take a computer class for free. She is just not interested in doing so, I have asked.

Making gov networks and smartphones work “together” is another animal all together. Where I am, that is not allowed. Now if Uncle Sam gives you a “smartphone” for work purposes, (yeah, really), then you can access the network….however, Uncle Sam is tethered to you like a tick on a dogs back. No thank you. And for sure Uncle Sam, (at least in DoD and DoN) do not want you plugging anything into his network. Security reasons.

Corey, your idea is doable and logical. Public libraries get funding every year. The library is the place I went to when I needed to research for a paper at school. It had every book, microfish (yeah, I’m old) newspaper I needed to look through.

Mark Braggins

Tablets like the iPad are helping close the digital divide. Many who wouldn’t touch ‘a computer’ feel comfortable with a single touch to perform an action. It helps to remove all the clutter and just provide icons that meet the individual’s particular needs.

Instant-on computing helps as well, so less likely to get frustrated waiting for start-ups and ‘blue screens of death’.

I agree with Biff and Julie – both smartphones and fast broadband are helping as well.

It just needs to work, fast, first-time and be so easy to use that people aren’t conscious digital is involved – it then becomes a normal part of life (like a light switch)

Biff LeVee

I agree. Technology and competition are helping to close the digital divide, and I think that most people can afford a smartphone. At Sprint, you can buy an iPhone 4 for $99 with an unlimited data plan if your service contract is up–and you agree to extending it 2 years and an extra $10/month. It depends on what you want to spend money on.

Extending broadband to underserved areas is another question completely and may well require Government funding, though that looks harder to come by.

Julie Chase

Biff, I pay $80 a month for my Samsung Character. I have unlimited text, camera is decent, but I don’t use it for online. That is what I have a hom computer for. For work, Uncle Sam generously provided me with a reconditioned Dell or HP with limited internet access and all the security software loaded “daily”. Oh, did I mention no one in my organization has a “classified” machine? Neither does any other organization within 4 square blocks.

Mark, “instant on” depends on how much security software is loaded on it, then it draggggssssss. I don’t want or need a smartphone. They are too expensive and are just toys. I don’t want a government furnished phone because at the end of the day, I leave the job, at the job.

Biff LeVee

Julia, You are right…there are many inexpensive smartphones. I wanted to illustrate that that many folks can cross the digital divide because very good smartphones exist that are inexpensive.

And I heartily concur about resisting smartphones supplied by the government.