Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Digital Divide is 25

Since the start of the pandemic, the phrase "digital divide" has probably been used more times than in its entire prior history. For too many people, it seems like the virus was the first to reveal it.

Actually, the concept was introduced during the Clinton administration. Since then, cascades of auspicious government programs have spent billions of dollars to resolve it. Yet the divide remains. In some cases, no different than in 1995.

The current fix is called The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Its second funding phase takes place on October 29, 2020. As stated on the FCC website, 386 Applicants May Bid for Up to $16 Billion in Support to Bring Broadband to Up to 10.25 Million Unserved Americans.

Introduced about six months before Covid-19 first hit the US, the RDOF will award an unprecedented total of $20 billion over various project stages. Yet despite the broadband deficits exposed by the pandemic, there is no good reason to believe this fund will finally be the one that fills the gap.

The state of US telecommunications access is like a mountain of twisted old-time phone chords with an earpiece trapped somewhere inside. Legislation, technology, public funding, corporate interests, and essential human needs are a scrambled maze of demand with no immediate solution but plenty of opportunity for lucrative obfuscation.

Under the control of a select few mega-media players such as Comcast NBCUniversal, the telecom industry has routinely buried any reference to its concerted heist of a public resource.

One of the more fortunate consequences of the pandemic, though, is that "we the people" are again appreciating the democratic architecture of the pre-corporate Net and the vision Harley Hahn so reverently described in his 1994 Complete Reference to the Internet.

In learning how to use the Internet, you are embarking upon a great adventure. You are about to enter a world in which well-mannered people from many different countries and cultures cooperate willingly and share generously. They share their time, their efforts, and their products. (And you will, too.)

...Thus, the Internet is much more than a computer network or an information service. The Internet is living proof that human beings who are able to communicate freely and conveniently will choose to be social and selfless.

The computers are important because they do the grunt work of moving all the data from place to place, and executing the programs that let us access the information. The information itself is important because it offers utility, recreation, and amusement.

But, overall, what is most important is the people. The Internet is the first global forum and the first global library. Anyone can participate, at any time: the Internet never closes. Moreover, no matter who you are, you are always welcome. You will never be excluded for wearing the wrong clothes, having the wrong colored skin, being the wrong religion, or not having enough money.

The Internet was designed, developed, and implemented with US taxpayer funding.
We the People just need to be clear about our right to own it.