Digital Divide

Some say the Internet is the savior for the world. It will bring all the people of the world together for universal peace. The great equalizer the educator the cash cow, the greatest communication infrastructure ever. The World Wide Web is the single greatest evolution of technology in my lifetime the “end all and be all” of killer applications for the Personal Computer. Well what if you have never used a computer, maybe you have never seen one in real life. Would you know how to turn it on, let alone log on to the information super highway? I bet not. America was founded on the idea of equality for all her citizens. The price of a computer is the same for all consumers but that doesn’t make it affordable for all. So what do we do when equality is not enough? Only 41.5% of us households have the Internet in their homes. (In Class Charts I) Most people turn to other locations for example school, work, community centers, libraries or web cafe’s for access to the Internet and computers. By no fault of their own the Infrastructure is simply not completely in place to allow access to every citizen. Is universal access to the Internet something the government is prepared to provide or something we as independent citizens will do? With the concern concentrated on technology Infrastructure we can bridge the Digital Divide.
The Digital Divide is the poverty line of the twenty-first century. It is the term use to describe the separation between the people who have access to, knowledge of, and training on, new technology from the people who have little to no access and no technical knowledge of technology. The term Digital reefers to the format used by computers called binary code. Binary code is compiled of ones and zeros (1001110001) it is a basic computer language. When technical gurus began to talk about codes and servers you might become confused but what if the term’s disk drive, modem, upload download, e-mail was just as confusing. This is a reality for a large section of the population. The distribution of our technological knowledge and access to the technology is not demographically balanced. This division is not based solely on economic factors, cultural and education factors also play major roles. This Digital Divide is a fixable problem and in fact the divide has begun to close.
The Digitally Divided population have a similar demographic, usually they are of low income, uneducated, and in most cases African American or Hispanic households. (NTIA, 2000) Household Internet penetration continues to correlate with income. “Households with less than $15,000 in income had a 12.7% Internet penetration rate.” “At the $15,000-$24,999 income levels, 21.3% of households had Internet access.” “In August 2000, the penetration rate for households with incomes between $25,000 and $34,999 stood at 34.0.” (NTIA, 2000) The education level of a household is a contributing factor in Internet access penetration. The education level of the head of the household is measured. Higher educated adults are more likely to use computers and the Internet. “In December 1998, 53.0% of households headed by a person with education beyond college had Internet access. That surpassed the access rate for households headed by a person with a bachelor’s degree (46.8%), those with some college experience (30.2%), those with a high school diploma (16.3%), and those with less than a high school diploma (5.0%).” (NTIA, 2000) The Internet usage in Blacks and Hispanic households are among the lowest in the ethnic category. “(23.5% and 23.6%, respectively)” The poor the uneducated and the minorities of American are the ones being left out of the great equalizer. (NTIA, 2000)
The Digital Divide is a significant problem. We are in a sense leaving behind a large section of our population. We are not leaving them to catch the next train; we are limiting their access to buy a ticket. The problem is the catch 22 these digital deprived individuals find themselves in. The groups of people being left out of the digital revolution are loosing time to catch up with the rest of us. “Groups that were already connected are now far more connected, while those with lower rates have increased less quickly. As a result, the gap between the information “halves” and “have-nots” is growing over time.” (NTIA, 2000) The sooner you are connected the faster you become computer literate. Computer literacy in the future could be ranked just underneath Reading literacy in most important education goals. This gap needs to be closed the faster the better. This must be a high priority among the lawmakers and technology corporations and other groups with the power to make a difference.
There have been many projects dedicated to bridging the Digital Divide. One such program was headed by ex Los Angles Laker Magic Johnson. Together with Hewlett-Packard, Los Angles County Community Development Commission and AT;T the Magic Johnson foundation opened a renovated computer center at the Ujima Village Housing Development. The center came complete with a powerful lineup of commercial products from Hewlett-Packard including servers PC’s printers scanners and digital cameras. “We can only advance our minds if we take a step inside,” said Magic Johnson upon cutting the Ribbon at the opening ceremonies. (Casillas, 2001) The center will be used to help teach residents to use computers for homework, research, or job hunting and just plain enjoyment. (Casillas, 2001) Just down South La Brea Avenue you can find the next attempt in inner city Internet access. Operation Hope Cyber Cafe is “an attempt to bridge the so-called Digital Divide”. (Newman, 2001) This cafe will serve as a community center for computer use. It offers on-site classes in Microsoft Windows and other software. UCLA’s extension program has begun offering an informational technology certificate program at the cafes that expect to have 100 people graduate per year. (Newman, 2001) Both of these projects have corporate help along with private citizens giving and helping to educate the disadvantaged.
Microsoft has been in the news lately regarding the Digital Divide. The company is close to settling its four-year battle in court over antitrust allegations. Last month Microsoft offered a settlement and one part of this settlement was millions of dollars worth of Microsoft equipment including computers, software and other new technology for the poorest schools in the nation. Helen Souel director of technology for the state of Mississippi said, “If structured properly, the settlement could really have far-reaching positive effects on students of the United States”. (Linn, 2001) Sounds like this is another example of the Digital Divide shrinking, sadly no. “Apple’s Macintosh computers and laptops currently hold a 47 percent share of the education market; its share of the general personal computing market is far smaller, at about 5 percent.”(Johnson, 2001) Apple complained to the judge because they see this settlement as an attempt by Microsoft to grab a better hold on the education demographic. This was the reason Microsoft was in court in the first place unfair business practices. So after some debate Microsoft has agreed to give more control to educators over the money. “With 150 million to 450 million in funds, the e-Learning Foundation would have plenty of money to spread around.” It is a pleasing situation where big business can settle their differences so the disadvantaged of our country can profit.
With the efforts of private citizens, big business and federal grants we are making a significant difference in the Digital Divide. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has compiled a web sight (www.digitaldivide.gov) dedicated to the Digital Divide. They have compared households of different racial and economic backgrounds from 1998 until 2000 and have noticed a dramatic increase in all areas. The digital Divide is closing. There had been an average of 6.93% increase in households with a computer along all income demographics. People are finding ways to buy computers. Access to the Internet is also on the rise Black households saw an increase of 9.4%. Hispanic households had 8.2% more households connect to the Internet within the past two years. Across all racial lines we can see an average increase of 9.3 % more and more people are becoming connected to the Internet. But are we increasing fast enough? (In Class Chart II, III)
There is no doubt we are still leaving people behind. I think the progress made in the last few years is positive and should be acknowledged as such. I also think we have a long way to go to finish the battle. There are some people who will die having never connected to the Internet but this should be their choice and not a sad consequence of poverty or low education. I believe the solution lies with big business, think of millions of students all being trained on Acme software and Acme systems when they get a good job and purchase there own computer chances are they will stick with Acme and that is how capitalism is supposed to work. So I would say to Acme take a risk on our poor and uneducated they need to have a level playing field.
Works Cited
Casillas, Ofelia; Los Angles Times; August 4, 2001; An Assist by Magic Johnson. URL
http://latimes.com/news/local/la-000063338aug04.story
In Class Charts Digital Divide Lecture, John Decker, December 4, 2001, URL http://courses.sdsu.edu/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_57_1&frame=top
Johnson, Carrie; Washington Post; December 11, 2001; Microsoft Revises Private-Lawsuit Offer; URL http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22672-2001Dec10.html
Linn, Allison; Los Angles Times; November 26, 2001; Microsoft Settlement Plan Criticized; URL http://latimes.com/technology/wire/sns-ap-microsoft1127nov26.story
Newman, Morris; Los Angles Times; January 25 2001; Cyber South Central; URL http://latimes.com/technology/la-000007046jun30.story
NTIA National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2000, URL http://www.digitaldivide.gov/