Bridging the Digital Divide

This Friday, the City Club of Portland is taking up the topic of the digital divide - and how a handful of Portland-area nonprofits are opening up access to technology. The speakers will include leaders from Personal Telco Project, FreeGeek, and Centro Cultural.

From the announcement:

The digital revolution -- especially the Internet -- has affected all parts of society, from economics to entertainment. But its fast-paced development has left many marooned offline for lack of resources. Three Portland nonprofit organizations, however, hope to use their unique brand of techno-volunteerism to level the playing field while building social capital along the way. The Personal Telco Project, for example, develops free Internet access through public wireless networks throughout Portland. Free Geek recycles used technology to provide equipment to those in need. And Centro Cultural reaches out to teach low-income Latinos one-on-one how to use computers and the Internet. What's at the root of these efforts to bridge the digital divide? How does each organization operate and who do they serve? What effect have they had on our community, and what do they have planned for the future?

BlueOregon featured Personal Telco last month with "Wi-Fi for Everyone!"

So, BlueOregonians, what else can we do to bridge the digital divide? Discuss.

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    This appears to be one of those private vs. public debates we see so often (particularly since the GOP now wants to privatize absolutely everything). It offers a nice opportunity to think about what the public good is here. Based on my incredibly small amount of information, I'd say it looks like the public would be served with such a program.

    One could even make the argument that it would help businesses, because if you free a medium, it gives them access as well--and accessing customers is good business.

    It raises in my mind a question of how we think about a free internet. Is it like the "free" airwaves? Will we usher in an era of regulation, government oversight, and a two-tiered system of public and private ownership issues? I haven't the vaguest clue.

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    For those who would like to attend the Forum at City Club on Friday (doors open at 11:45 at the Governor Hotel, 11th and Alder), tickets are available for $16 for City Club members and $18 for non-members. You can reserve online.

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    Coffee/tea table tickets are $5 and are available at the door on a first-come, first-served basis
    General seating is free for members and $5 for nonmembers, and is available at the door on a first-come, first-served basis
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    The three presenters have a wealth of knowledge and resources to offer to this community. They all represent some of the finest programs in the region in addressing the critical issue of the technology divide.

    It is interesting to note that a recent PUC Consumer Survey of 2,400+ Oregonians across the state that 72% of residents have computers and Internet access in their home. For those families earning less than $40,000 (approx 80% of the state's median income)the number of families with Internet in the home dropped to 53%.

    About half of respondents (42%) had broadband connections.

    These numbers are dramatically different than what was known about home Internet access several years ago. While there are interesting discussions about why these changes are happening, it seems that the issue of the digital divide is changing from a question of access to hardware to access to information and services that address the needs of low-income families.

    While there is still A LOT of work to be done in helping everyone have access to telecommunication services, it is equally clear that there is a much bigger divide -- right now -- in terms of how people use those services in their daily lives.

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    The divide in the digital divide is speed - in rural Oregon - actually, starting about one mile out of the center of Silverton - providers like Verizon leave people with only dial-up. Satellite is not good quality and very expensive. We need state regulators to take control of the recalcitrant phone companies like Verizon and force the installation of DSLAMs and other devices to bring high speed access to everyone, not just the city dweller.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    Chuck, nice thought, but who's going to foot the bill? I'm a rural Oregonian who pays for satellite internet, lest I have to use dial up on old copper that gets me 26.4k on a good day. I'm miles from anything wired with speed. Who pays?

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    Chuck - You are right that access to broadband is an important issue. The PUC survey asked people about availability of various types of Internet services and in Central and Eastern Oregon, about half of the respondents said they could get DSL or cable service.

    But hardware is just one aspect of the divide. Price barriers once access is gotten is another. And content a third. All are important and are weighted differently depending if you are in a rural community or a low-income urban/suburban area.

open discussion

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