Politic365 ran an article this week which responds to a previous article which focused on wireless broadband creating a new digital divide. The original article, Colorlines, contends that smartphones and mobile broadband service from wireless companies are creating two Internets. In addition, the article argues that wireless Internet is the “Cyber Ghetto” because minorities are more likely to rely on the service for digital access and that it is inheritably inferior to wired service. Not only is this view incorrect, it negatively affects the pursuit of reducing the real digital divide – which is between those who have regular access to the Internet and those who don’t.
It has been well covered that Latinos, other minorities, low income households, the elderly, and rural residents are the most likely groups of people to fall into the digital divide. The Pew Internet and American Life Project has collected and chronicled statistics regarding Internet usage and there are several dynamics which can be concluded from their research. For instance, Latinos are still among the most likely groups to not have regular Internet access, and they are also among the most likely groups to own smartphones and subscribe to wireless service. Therefore, it clearly shows that wireless continues to have a profound impact in bringing Latinos into the digital age.
This is where the Colorlines piece gets it wrong. We all know the limitations of smartphones versus laptops and desktops connected to wired broadband. Speed is not as fast with wireless, and phones do not have the computing power and ability to do as many things as PCs. However, smartphones are very affordable, provide traditional telecommunications service, are extremely mobile, and are increasing in functionality. The Politic365 article points out that with today’s smartphones, users can perform online banking, e-ecommerce, social networking, and web browsing quite proficiently. And, at such an affordable price it is a stepping stone towards computers and wired broadband.
Unfortunately, language like “Cyber Ghettos”, which treats wireless like a second class service, will have the opposite effect than that Colorlines intended. It is clear from the facts that wireless has brought millions of low income and minority families into the digital age. A distraction from not factually based rhetoric also hurts the chances of achieving breakthroughs in wireless policy. Spectrum is a major issue, and one which will really impact the future of the digital divide. Those truly concerned about the digital divide are focusing on how to make spectrum more available and efficiently used to ensure that it remains a quality and affordable service.