ellohay! West Michigan

Article: Was EarthLink’s failed citywide Wi-Fi a blessing in disguise?

Posted in benchmarks, potential problems, wifi by forgr on September 7, 2008

A recent article from Tirana Magazine on Philadelphia’s wi-fi network, the Wireless Philadelphia organization and doing a really solid job on…

Defining the digital divide

There’s been a lot of chatter over the years about the digital divide or the idea that there is a great chasm between people who have access to technology such as computers and the Internet, and those who do not. While some 68 percent of the U.S. population has access to the Internet via broadband or dial-up connections, there are still millions of people across the country who do not have any access at all.

Overwhelmingly, these unconnected individuals tend to be minorities and people with low education levels. A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 57 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of Hispanics have Internet access. And only 29 percent of people who have not graduated from high school are connected to the Internet.

It’s difficult to gauge what the impact of this exclusion means. In the past, Internet access was viewed as an unnecessary luxury, a tool used to send e-mail and casually surf Web sites. But increasingly, the Internet has become an important tool for getting information about and access to just about everything from health care to social services. It’s used as a tool to engage parents in their children’s education. And as newspapers shed their classified listings, it’s become an important tool for looking for jobs.

“Digital inclusion has traditionally been seen as a charity initiative,” The Knight Foundation’s Perry said. “But that is rapidly changing. Increasingly, cities of all types–urban, suburban, and rural–are linking universal digital access to economic development imperatives.”

From the beginning, Wireless Philadelphia’s goal has been to provide broadband service to families who have never owned a computer and have little or no online experience. The group believes that getting these families online will increase their access to educational, employment, and life opportunities.

But it will also have big benefits for the city, such as reducing crime and unemployment, improving public health and social service efficiency, and increasing educational excellence.

“It’s nearly impossible to apply for an entry-level job today without having basic digital skills and Internet access,” Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia said. “And there have been studies that show patients who access information online about HIV AIDS, hypertension, or diabetes have better health outcomes.”

We’ll find out what happens next quite soon…

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