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The Future of the Post Office and the Digital Divide

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Digital Divide

What does the future of the United States Post Office hold for the people affected by the Digital Divide?

I wish I knew.

What I do know is that the current state of Internet access in the US is completely inadequate for us to consider ourselves a functioning democracy.  As the New York Times and SavetheInternet.com just noted, we’re behind ROMANIA in terms of Internet speed (25th out of developed nations).

Here are just some of the reasons that Internet Access should be considered a basic right for all people:

Political Involvement:

  • Legislation moves quickly enough now that the standard “snail mail” (plus the added time it takes for legislators to screen their mail given the threat of terrorism) means it’s really too slow anyway and now the spectre of privatizing the mail service is in the future which will increase costs to send a letter (because it’s no longer subsidized by the government).
  • Want to send a fax to your legislator?  Unless you own a fax machine, most places charge a dollar or more per page.
  • Many required disclosures by public organizations have moved online, and virtually all historical documents and records are available online.
  • Citizen Journalism is a burgeoning phenomena that could potentially bring a great deal more transparency to the world we live in, but it also requires high-speed Internet access to work.

Career Advancement:

  • Moving onward and upward without Internet Access is extraordinarily difficult.  Consider the impact of the decline of the newspaper industry on access to classified ads for jobs.  Many organizations have moved to online job listings through web-based services like Monster.com, Indeed.com, Beyond.com, etc.
  • Networking still happens face-to-face, and it’s still valuable, but networking (and maintaining networks) online is rapidly becoming a new norm.
  • Social networking and other web-based platforms are now integral to most work that pays a decent wage – using those tools requires a considerable amount of time online to learn and practice skills.

Entrepreneurship:

  • The other day I saw a van for a local HVAC servicing company wrapped with branding imagery that included a Facebook button.  The “Flat Earth” has brought about a revolution in commerce and anyone can easily start up a business with far fewer resources because so many things can be accomplished inexpensively online (from payroll to managing finances to setting up an e-commerce platform).

Not enough attention is being paid to this issue.  Here’s a great example; even PBS has retired its Digital Divide site:

PBS Digital Divide Site Retired

Edutopia has a well-written piece on the state of the Digital Divide in the US which was recently updated and includes contextual information on the last decade of attempts to address it.

One of the ways to address the digital divide is to break the stranglehold the for-profit telecommunications industry has on Internet Access.  Attempts nationwide have been made to provide low-cost or free Internet access – like municipalities purchasing and providing wi-fi for their citizens (which have been fought tooth and nail by the telecoms).  That’s the main reason I was so excited about Google Fiber; the possibility that experiment holds for bridging the digital divide is promising.

GoogleFiber4GR

Even Grand Rapids has attempted to bring low-cost or free Internet access to its citizens (GR’s “The Rapidian” has a good write-up about the current efforts involving a company called Clear“) but progress has been slow.If the Post Office is dramatically cut or eliminated outright, that’s going to dramatically ramp up the need for a “digital” equivalent of those “analog” services.

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  1. September 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    good article.

    Like

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