The Eternal Divide

Remember the Digital Divide? That was back when we called the internet the “information superhighway” (or at least Al Gore did). The worry was that internet access did not spread quickly and evenly enough. Some demographic groups got it faster than others, and the disparity sniffers quickly proposed government action. Thankfully, government remained mostly on the sidelines. The price of getting online continued to drop and new technologies, such as satellite access, meant that more and more people in more places and income levels could get internet access. But as that divide narrows, another opens:

This new digital divide ââ?¬â?? the broadband divide ââ?¬â?? leaves state and local officials facing a lot of tough questions. What’s the best way to smooth out these disparities? And what’s the proper role of the public sector? Should government build and own some of the infrastructure itself, as it does with highways? Or should broadband look more like the railroads, built and run by profit-seeking companies?

Should this even be a question anymore? Government provided highways keep us stuck in traffic, and nations, like France, that made internet access a government priority fell behind those that did not. Of course the early adopters of any new technology will always be wealthier and better educated than society in general. But then costs fall, awareness of how cool the new technology is spreads, and more people get it. Still, we get more and more of this:

As [activist Annie] Collins sees it, cities should view broadband as they do roads, sewers or any other essential infrastructure they provide. “Putting the infrastructure in place is just like pavement,” she says. “It’s basic infrastructure, and the cities should own it.”

I suppose it would then be easier to tackle another “problem,” the Blog Divide:

Blog creators tend to be male, affluent, well-educated and young …

As long as we have technology and politicians, there will always be some new “divide,” and there will be those who will insist that it’s government’s duty to close it.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.