Blog Post

Digital Democracy Now

I was pleased to read Anthony W. Marx's Op-Ed piece--Too Poor to Afford the Internet. With the piece, Marx, President of the New York Public Library, continues developing a fresh language for discussing and acting on the fact that the Digital Divide has not been closed completely. Even persons who have computing devices sometimes do not have wifi access. Marx characterizes such persons, who struggle to connect to the Web, as being in the "Digital Dark." He estimates that half of Americans making less than $20,000 a year are without Broadband access. People are resourceful, however. They line up at New York's libraries to catch the wifi crumbs that fall from the table.

I agree with Marx that even libraries' provisions are not enough. As in New York, people line up at South Bend's several branches both to use computers and to get on the Internet with their own devices.Municipalities that provide access are forward thinking and would seem to recognize a relationship between access, education, and equality.I spent some of my summer in South Bend, Indiana, where wifi is now available downtown for free and where plans are underway to extend availability of free wifi even farther. Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg characterizes access not as a luxury but as a necessity. The public initiative is privately funded by the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, the James M. & Marjorie H. Wilson Charitable Trust Fund, and enFocus, a local entity whose goal is to stem the flow of out-migration of young professionals. Apparently, other municipalities have tried similar inititatives with, according to Marx, "mixed success."

The President of New York Public Library suggests boosters that would make wifi available to people in their own homes. Marx sees such service as a public utility for all. Recognizing this as a tall order, he compares it to providing clean water, electricity, and phone service in the past. On the other hand, leaving masses of people in the digital dark is not, in Marx's opinion, acceptable or smart.




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