The Digital Device as defined by the dictionary sounds pretty straightforward. What is missing is as always is the context and what that actually means. What does not having access really mean? What effect does the digital divide really have? This was the conversation that we had last week during our class on Digital Culture.
There were many topics that came up during the discussion, one of which was the idea of access because of availability. This reminded me of when I lived in the UK and the work that was being done to bring high-speed internet to rural areas. I can totally understand the business side of this conundrum. You have to dig trenches or hang expensive cables long distances for very few people. The reality is that this is never going to be an area that makes these companies money. They are never going to gain back the money that they spent on running these cables and lines.
This is the point where you argue is this a public service that should be offered to those communities just like water and electricity or is it something else? I think that even 5 years ago you could have made a good argument that it wasn’t a “basic service”. But I also think that more and more as the time passes this is a basic service. As was stated in this article about broadband for Farmers “It is no longer a luxury; it is an absolute necessity in our digital age.” I also think that this is where companies have to figure out more cost-effective ways to provide the service. Maybe running fiber cable is not effective, maybe instead they should focus on running dedicated 4 or 5G zones in these areas. One tower can provide both cellular data for cell phones and 4/5G service for the homes. I do think if they consider this they should have separate dedicated towers or whatever it may be called. Otherwise, there will be too much conflict for the available space.
One of the other ways that people are bridging the divide is through libraries. This works great for areas that are close to a library. I am from Mississippi though and I can tell you that we have rural areas that are probably 50 miles or more from a library. So a library as a replacement isn’t really a viable option.
One thing we didn’t really talk so much about is the requirement for a device that actually accesses the internet. It isn’t enough to have the internet in your area you have to be able to access it. Many people assume that everyone has at least a smartphone now but there are many people who do not, nor can they afford one. But a smartphone is probably the cheapest way to get people on the internet. I saw when I was traveling in Namibia many of the people in the village that we visited that was probably a good 2 hours from any town with a library, many of the residents had an internet capable phone. They were only able to complete very basic tasks but it was enough that they understood how to make connections using the internet.
I also recently saw this video from Nas Daily, who showed how digital access can be accomplished even in poor countries with even poorer infrastructure. Zimbabwe has managed to figure out a way to exchange currency even when there isn’t any actual currency to exchange all through cell phones.
One thing that we didn’t discuss and I realized only when doing research and finding this article on Rural Communities was that without high-speed internet the rural communities do not have access to many online jobs that urban residents may use to supplement their income. This was one element of the digital divide that I had not even considered. Many “side hustles” are based on online access. Working from home even often requires consistent internet if not high-speed internet. So not only are rural residents struggling to get online they may be at a financial disadvantage more so that their urban peers simply due to lack of opportunity for the types of work they can accomplish.
Digital Divide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/digital divide
Duvall, Z. (2018, November 01). For farmers, broadband is a necessity, not a luxury. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/414370-for-farmers-broadband-is-a-necessity-not-a-luxury
Rural communities see big returns with broadband access, but roadblocks persist. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/rural-communities-see-big-returns-broadband-access-roadblocks-persist-n881731