The Digital Divide

About 100 million Americans are not connected to the Internet, and an additional 19 million who use the Internet are not connected to broadband.

This situation has prompted President Obama to create a new program for making broadband Internet service more accessible. The White House said, in part:

“Connecting the middle class to the benefits of the digital age is a critical piece of the President’s economic plan.”

Typical of a politician’s approach to problem solving, the White House apparently ignores the element of cost.

28% of those not connected say it is because of cost—the remainder says they “just aren’t interested.” Well, maybe they just aren’t interested in spending $50 per month on something they think they can live without.

Consider this:

Historical communications

The U.S.—birthplace of the Internet—provides poorer quality and more costly Internet service than most of the other Western nations.

In my area, 12 Mbps of broadband service alone costs over $50 per month—while residents in Hong Kong can get 500Mbps fiber service for $25 per month.

Moreover, the cost of broadband service continually increases—rather than becoming more affordable—thus further enlarging the “digital divide.”

In the U.S., the quality and cost of broadband service is such that the one-third of the population not connected to broadband today simply will not, or cannot afford to, subscribe to broadband.

A further divide of the haves and have-nots.

The problem is even greater in rural communities where most of their services are already in a budget crisis. Schools and libraries simply do not have the money available to connect to broadband.

For example, Massachusetts initiated a program to expand broadband service across the state … yet, a Library in a typical small town in Colrain, Mass. has fiber service running right past their door, but they are not connected to it because they simply cannot afford the $100 per month connection cost.

This situation is played out all across America.

Until the U.S. is able to provide low cost broadband service to broader areas, I’m afraid the current statistics for people disconnected from the Internet are just not going to get much better.

What do you think: is the cost, and poor quality, of broadband service in the U.S. too expensive for many people?

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2 thoughts on “The Digital Divide

  1. Like everything else in the US, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are privatized businesses capitalizing on their geographical monopolization. Very few markets have much of a “choice”, given the option between cable or one of the phone providers (ATT/Verizon). It’s the same model as digital TV and mobile phones, and often the same providers. There is no regulation on this industry so they make the rules and feign “competitive pricing” when they’re all playing in the same market.

    The government stepping in to “help” at this point is as senseless/useless as their feeble attempts at providing medical insurance and affordable utilities. Most working-class people (I refuse to recognize the label “middle class” since I believe they are virtually extinct) currently have to chose between rent or a health care plan – guess which wins out. If people have no contact to the outside and many companies are forcing people to go “paperless” with billing, payments, etc., and the rapid downfall of the US Postal Service, they’ll be given the squeeze eventually to be forced into a government-provided “plan” they really can’t afford.

    Not trying to go all George Orwell on this topic, but there’s a reason that 1984 is flying off the shelves again recently.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jeff. Unfortunately, “corporatism” has taken over from “entrepreneurial capitalism” in the U.S. There is no “competitive pricing” for services like broadband because there is no real competition. Sadly, the one-third of Americans who are not on the Internet will continue to be pushed further and further down the class ladder, thus expanding the gap between the haves and have-nots.

      You’re also right that the “government” will never be of any help, because Washington is so bound up with game-playing I doubt they can even pass gas. The Republicans are buried in an ideological morass they may never resolve, and the Democrats are … a mystery. When the Democratic House was steamrolling Obamacare into passage, I almost fainted when I saw Speaker Pelosi say, “Let’s get this thing passed, so we can see what we have.” Yup, with that kind of governing, any help with improving broadband cost and service is doomed (and Pelosi was 2nd in line of succession to the Presidency at the time).

      Perhaps we should heed Will Rogers’s famous admonition: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”

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