The Digital Divide

Source: From “The Digital Divide Infographic” published in the Fall, 2011 issue of Policy Priorities,17(3) online at http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/policy-priorities/vol17/num03/The-Digital-Divide.aspx. © 2011 ASCD. Reprinted with permission. Visit ASCD at www.ascd.org

Source: From “The Digital Divide Infographic” published in the Fall, 2011 issue of Policy Priorities,17(3) online at http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/policy-priorities/vol17/num03/The-Digital-Divide.aspx. © 2011 ASCD. Reprinted with permission. Visit ASCD at www.ascd.org

According to the Saint Paul Public Libraries, 22 percent of all households in Saint Paul have no internet service.

Think about that for a minute. Nearly a quarter of the city’s families are without meaningful access to the information superhighway.

For many, that means an inability to accomplish simple tasks such as responding to online job postings, following their children’s progress at school, or paying bills and engaging in other important financial transactions. For students, it means not having access to information they may need to properly complete an assignment or perform necessary research for a school project.

How can we close the achievement gap when the digital divide continues to widen?

To deal with this lack of access, people gravitate to free Wi-Fi hotspots offered by our public libraries or made available by businesses as a convenience to their customers. While such options are better than nothing, having to trek back and forth from one’s home whenever one needs an internet connection hearkens back to a century ago when people had to depend on the corner drug store for a phone connection.

Is that the best we can do in the 21st Century?

After all, libraries and businesses are seldom open 24/7, and using a pubic internet connection for transmitting information increases the risks of data breaches and identity fraud. In addition, wireless connectivity seldom offers as much bandwidth as possible with a hardwired fiber connection, which means valuable time is wasted waiting for documents or data to upload or download.

We can do better.

High speed, affordable internet connectivity must be treated as a necessity rather than viewed as a luxury, much like the electricity we depend on to light our homes or the water that flows through the city’s pipes. Before the development of a modern water supply system, one might have to walk several miles just to reach the nearest well. Those without reliable internet access face similar challenges: having to travel several miles from home just to connect to the Internet.

While people will continue to cope with such inconveniences as best as they can, limiting anyone’s access to an affordable, high-speed internet connection robs them of the ability to fully engage and participate in our economy and in our democracy.

With a citywide fiber network as a publicly-owned asset, we can all work together to eliminate the digital divide here in Saint Paul.