To close the "digital divide," let's have some bold efforts, please

This spirited discussion of the almost-total digital desert in rural places in Mississippi–places where still no broadband internet is available–brings up some interesting points, and the notion that maybe a “Civil Rights” movement is called for.

First, the findings: 

“With far too little internet access in communities of color, hundreds of thousands are effectively prevented from contributing to the economy.”
* People of color are the majority in zip codes with zero access to high speed Internet.
* Mississippi’s Second Congressional Districts has the largest population of people of color and the lowest levels of broadband access.
* Broadband builds the economy. Therefore, poor communities of color are less able to build their economies or the state and national economy:
* Zip codes with 8 or more Internet providers average 811 businesses. Those without high-speed internet access have a mere 7 businesses on average. Zip codes with 8 or more Internet providers average 13,212 jobs. Job opportunities in places with one, two, or even three Internet providers are a mere fraction of that, with an average of 646 jobs.
* Of the 124 applications for expanding broadband access in Mississippi, 87 were rejected and 37 are still awaiting a decision. 

In the commentary is where things get interesting. There is a thread of diction, and a spirited political discussion.

First, notice the logic police, critically reviewing the post:

“This argument could work with anything. 
    • In rural, sparsely populated areas of poverty, the average number of kumquats per resident is less than one. 
    • However, in rich, densely populated areas with 8 or more kumquat providers, the kumquats/resident ratio is greater than one.
    • Therefore, providing kumquats will end poverty.
While I think broadband would help these people, there’s no way in hell this is a 1:1 correlation.”

I think this bodes well, that people’s BS detectors are working, but if kumquats were packed with every known nutrient known to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, there would be rights to the kumquats.

Equality of opportunity means we want to give digital access to every American. In the last great depression, we made bold efforts to bring electricity and all it afforded in the way of opportunity (opps. to learn, connect/communicate with the rest of the world, etc.) to the rural places. Then in the Civil Rights Movement we made bold efforts to bring democratic participation and all it afforded  in the way of opportunity (opps. to endorse politicians and policies that could serve the people’s needs, etc.) to rural places. Maybe now, in this rather great depression, we should make bold efforts to bring digital access and all it affords in the way of opportunity (opps. to learn, connect/communicate with the rest of the world, engage in commercial, job-creating activities, endorse politicians and policies that could serve the people’s needs, etc.) to rural places.

There is a default opinion that in the USA, communications media should make profits. If they can’t make money at it, we should not wonder that the ISPs don’t want to connect the less-populated and profitable sectors of society.

Some are skeptical that merely providing access to the Internet will level the playing field. There is a characterization of these underachieving students as “not caring” and “lacking discipline.”

Can the satellites do it? One commentator from the mountains endorses this solution: “I live in a remote, mountainous region and all we need is a clear view of the southeastern sky. Yes it’s costly, but an alternative to dial up etc. It should be an option for schools & businesses.”  Mr. Obama, are you getting this?

Finally, an anonymous commentator makes some social engineering suggestions that make sense, when you think about them:

  • The important thing is to reduce population through birth control, which you can’t ethically do by force (eugenics), so we need to do it by giving young people exposure to a multitude of faiths/ideas [as one can through Internet access] so that they realize all religious dogmas are equally irrational. Once people give up the religious prohibitions on birth control, we can start reproducing at a sustainable level.
  • We also must to consume less resources needlessly (no more driving 50 miles one way to Wal-Mart in your SUV).
  • Urbanization helps alleviate both religious ignorance and needless resource consumption.
  • …right here, right now… we can choose to promote efficient, multicultural, informed dense living, or continue to invest in a lifestyle that has no future and will cause more suffering with more people living it.

It is the long tail that provides value now. And in a provocative Boing-Boing posting, it is the comments that really make one think.

satellite photo courtesy of Wiki-media commons

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