Technicity Times
    Issue 2• February 2003


The Other Side of the Divide

The Digital Divide's Detractors

by Barry Tavlin

When I started working on this article, I was hearing a lot of discussion about the Digital Divide and how to best tackle it. But these days, I don't hear much about it. Why is that? It's certainly not because the Digital Divide is solved, or that we have achieved equitable access to digital technology. Then why?

One reason is that the federal government has been directing everyone's attention elsewhere - to the War on Terrorism and the impending attack on Iraq. Now I hate terrorism as much as the next guy - maybe more - and I know that discussing foreign policy is a bit of a stretch for a community technology newsletter. But whatever you think about war and terrorism, the bottom line for community technology is this: it is being forced to take a back seat to the war drives and economic policy of the current administration.

America's cities, states and social programs are going begging; our national attention and our financial resources have been flowing to the top 1% of the country's population; and now to top it off, our country is initiating the threat of war. This is a terrible development and it cannot be ignored.

Another reason for this lack of attention to the Digital Divide is that the Federal Government has had a major turnaround on the issue. After first popularizing the Digital Divide as a problem in the 90s, the Federal Communications Commission now downplays it. Michael Powell, the Chairman of the FCC, expressed this, to the horror of many community technology advocates, within his first week of taking office.

At his maiden press conference, the FCC Chairman caused even jaded journalists' jaws to drop when he warned America that "digital divide" was "a dangerous phrase" because it could be used to justify government programs that guaranteed poor people cheaper access to new technology, like computers. "I think there's a Mercedes divide," the Chairman elaborated. "I'd like to have one, but I can't afford one...I don't mean to be completely flip about this. I think it's an important social issue. But it shouldn't be used to justify the notion of essentially the socialization of the deployment of the infrastructure."

So it is no accident that we haven't heard much from the Federal Government about the Digital Divide.

But we have been hearing a lot about it on the community technology email discussion lists. So the issue is not dead. Many people are doing a lot of good work on this issue, and we are making progress, no matter how hard some people try to bury the issue and deflect our attention.

So, dear readers, I will end by saying that we should continue our work and discussion about the Digital Divide. In our next issue I will return to the discussion of some of the issues surrounding the Digital Divide and some of the important work being done to better understand it and address it. In the meanwhile, we cannot ignore the major issues and conflicts that swirl around us and threaten to engulf our Digital Divide work and our country. Let your voice be heard.

Barry Tavlin consults on Internet technology and strategy.