An excellent article in today’s New York Times highlights the intractability of the digital divide, even for tech giants like Google.
It’s a pretty sad story, actually. Last year, Google promised to supply Kansas City, including its schools and hospitals, with very cheap high-speed Internet. The project is called Google Fiber.
The company wanted to make sure that communities demonstrated their interest in the program. To assess interest, Google required a certain percentage of residents in a neighborhood to put down a $10 deposit in order for the community to get wired.
Although this policy sounded reasonable, Google has found that mobilizing poor and largely African American communities to sign up has not worked well.
A few of the problems:
1. The program requires a credit card,
2. The program requires an email address,
3. Forty-six percent of Africans currently do not use the Internet.
Kevin Lo, the general manager of the project, said that closing the digital divide was “absolutely a core part of our mission,” but added that “it’s unrealistic to expect that we can, in six weeks’ time, close the gap.”
Although Mr. Lo’s sentiment may be true, I believe that Google should have known about the digital divide in Kansas City and done more preparation work before heading into town. It’s great that the company wants to help out, but it looks like Google Fiber wasn’t well thought out.
And shouldn’t the Internet be a public resource, anyway?