Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Digital Divide

This morning on my way up to the Antelope Valley, I'm a visiting librarian in Lancaster until my computers and network are installed. The moving in process just keeps dragging on. Back on topic. This the radio reporter told me that cell phones are replacing landlines in many homes. OK, no big surprise, then he went on to say that the rate of rich people giving up landlines outpace poor people. At first blush this seemed to contradict other reports that have stated that the world's poor are by passing land lines and going straight for cellphones with Internet capability.
As the miles passed I chewed on this facts only to digested them into a reason both could be true.
First, America's poor are not the same as the world's poor. Many countries where the majority of the world's poor live just does not and probably never will have the infrastructure to support wired technology. These people can only hope to connect to the rest of us via wireless technology, so in other words these people will out of necessity jump ahead in the technology cue. America's poor on the other hand tend to live in rural or remote areas where wireless coverage, despite AT&T and Verizon's claims is not ubiquitous. On the other hand, wired coverage is--even the party lines of my rural youth are mostly a thing of the past these days.
Rural-ness is another reason not to give up that ole landline even if a wireless provider is available. Wireless telephone does not mean wireless Internet coverage. My Iphone Internet capability was as non-existent as my savings account this summer in Idabel, OK. And Idabel is technically town. Cable internet through Time Warner or other providers is not any more available than cable TV. Rural America is dotted with satellite dishes for this reason. With this fact, dial up is a sad reality for many of America's ruralites no matter their own personal income.
Something else to consider that keep America's poor tied down is that landlines are often subsidized by us. For those poverty level incomes, we pay a portion of our phone bills to allow them to have very reasonably priced phone service. Phone service but not health care is seen as a basic necessity that should be available to one and all. With adequate documentation, a family can apply for the subsidy annually.
And finally, the rich have few children, and can afford family plans for their progeny. The poor may not have means to provide each and every one of their offspring with cellphones.
One question that did spring to mind as I walked past the line of less than homed individuals in front of the Lancaster Library. What is the rate of cellphones among those poor who are homeless vs those who are poor and aboded? Is there a bigger percentage? Do these people have the wherewithal to get and maintain a cell phone? Do they have people to call?