geert lovink on Thu, 16 Mar 2000 19:06:16 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] digital divide?


From: Sonia Arrison <>
To: "''" <>
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2000 17:28:42 -0800

March 12, 2000

    The U.S. 'Digital Divide'
    Is Not Even A Virtual

      Why Should We Pay To Get More Americans
     Online When High-Tech Companies Are Already
               Doing It On Their Own?

        By Helen Chaney, Pacific Research Institute
                  FROM Bridge News

    SAN FRANCISCO - Under President Clinton's
    recently announced $2-billion technology plan, the
    government will siphon dollars from the pockets of
    taxpayers to offer high-tech companies tax incentives to
    help bridge the so-called digital divide.

    But market forces are already pulling the masses onto
    the Internet with speed and efficiency that no
    government program could ever match.

    A government study released in the summer of 1999 had
    the media,  politicians and public spinning over the
    ever-widening gulf separating the technology haves from

    The foreboding image of a digital divide in the categories
    of race, gender, age, location and geography was
    splashed all over the front pages of newspapers and
    unsurprisingly found its way into the speeches of

    But with all of the excitement over this new issue, hardly
    anyone noticed that the government report was based
    on information from surveys taken in 1998 and earlier.

    By the time the Commerce Department released the
    report, more current market research was available,
    revealing the divide had already narrowed considerably.

    And we all know that Internet time is like dog years, one
    year is equivalent to a decade. The government's report
    warned of a "racial ravine," where whites dominate the
    new medium.

    But data from a more current 1999 Forrester Research
    survey shows both Asians and Hispanics beat whites as
    the most likely to be wired to the Internet.

    And as much as some politicians and special interest
    groups would like us to believe, the digital divide may
    not really be about race, gender or geography. Maybe it
    has more to do with government desire to establish and
    control a spoils system.

    With numerous private sector access initiatives already
    in place, there's no need for taxpayers to subsidize
    wealthy companies' community works and donations.

    High-tech firms have their own reasons for joining the
    digital crusade. Just as phone companies give away free
    cell phones to get consumers hooked on their service, so
    will tech firms provide free computers, Internet access
    and educational programs.

    Technology companies like America Online, Microsoft
    and AT&T have already invested heavily in getting
    Americans of all stripes online. AOL is partnering with
    Wal-Mart to bring low-cost Internet access to
    Wal-Mart's 100 million weekly customers.

    Microsoft has been running its "Giving Programs" since
    1983, bringing the benefits of information technology to
    people and communities that do not have access. And in
    July 1999, AT&T donated $1.42 million to further
    technology education in underserved communities.

    This all goes to show the private sector has it covered.
    What is required from the government now is not
    money, but patience. After all, Internet access has
    spread to 50 million people in only four years.

    That's about nine times faster than radio, four times
    faster than the personal computer and three times faster
    than television.

    At this rate, it won't be long until all of those who desire
    Internet access will have it. If the government wants to
    spread Internet access, they should leave the Internet
    unregulated and ease up on the taxes individuals pay.

    This will give all Americans the means to make their own
    choices about technology. For some, the extra cash
    could provide the means for them to log on for the first

         HELEN CHANEY is a policy fellow at the
         San Francisco-based Pacific Research
         Institute. Her views are not necessarily
         those of Bridge News,  whose ventures
         include the Internet site 

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