**I would like to introduce this article as the first from many to come by our lovely new apprentice, Beverly Bill Hall. (We’ll have your own pic up soon, Bev.) Enjoy!
In this technology-cluttered country, the rate at which immediate Internet access fastens its users to a continuous stream of content has moved rapidly. It has been impossible for the infrastructure, which transmits content, to maintain the expeditious pace at which information sharing platforms and devices are developed. Many technology driven companies and individuals seem to undervalue their instant access to resources, social connectivity, and more importantly, their ability to connect to their community. Therefore, what topic remains under served in the private sector is equal opportunity access to employment and workforce resources, online courses, business news, and the millions of pertinent facts, figures, and research used to assist one’s self in education and self promotion.
While companies like Apple and Google make different advances that provide greater access and usability for information-seekers; many Americans are left shut out of the conversation and resources simply due to the lack of rural broadband infrastructure and access to affordable cable and satellite carriers. Google’s progressive attempts to bring the rest of the US up to speed as a global competitor in terms of light-speed Internet access seems singular in terms of infrastructure innovation from the private sector. Meanwhile, some technology innovators, such as Apple, continue in their advent of sleek devices and application technology that seem to even further prohibit many potential users from gaining low-cost access to information. While information access continues to become a vital component in social and economic success for the average citizen, the growing question remains: how can the US solve the problems of information and technology accessibility before further technology advances widen the schism?
When it comes to fast Internet access, the US lags behind forerunners like Japan, the UK, and Switzerland. Currently, the US is ranked number 25 in its broadband penetration worldwide. In fact, in some remote areas of Japan, households run at speeds of an average of 1 Gpbs, nearly 100 times faster than the average metropolitan US household. Is this simply due to the lack of infrastructure, no telecommunication company competition, and progressive regulatory action? Recently, the city of Santa Monica, California installed its very own fiber optic cable and a 10 Gpbs network made available to all Santa Monica businesses. The city was able to provide a pro-business, fast access network, all independently. Some suggest that if the US is going to get up to speed, we will need to perform similar network installations through independent sources.
Google is making a similar attempt to create a 1 Gpbs network within a fortunate US test city. Google has been accepting applicants from various local municipalities with the hope of bringing high speed broadband access to a community. The Google city selection process has all but caused mass hysteria among municipal leaders. In fact, Topeka, Kansas made a valiant effort earlier this year to become the chosen high-speed network city by changing its name to “Google, Kansas” for the month of March, while mayor of Duluth, Minnesota became more of a polar bear for a day by jumping into the frozen Lake Superior with hopes of gaining further attraction to his city’s Google broadband application. As a front-running global Internet company, it is apparent that Google has made the best effort to show that it is possible to bring about network access for millions so that regular citizens will have equal access to imperative tools to thrive in the 21st Century.
With its continual advent of sophisticated devices and intelligent platforms, Apple maintains an elite status among the most savvy consumers. While many Americans could benefit greatly from access to information found on premium search engines, such as Google and Bing, Apple has moved into the direction of purchase-only applications. As Apple markets their products as convenient and user friendly, the technology of the App provides just the opposite for the mainstream American who needs a variety of information at their fingertips and does not wish to go through the App purchasing process to find their favorite recipe or search nearby Italian restaurants. Furthermore, how will the Application platform transform the cost of day-to-day online search usage for someone researching business news, exploring information for a term paper, or even searching for employment?
Despite these attempts to bring technology and access into the 21st century, the infrastructure cannot accommodate the bandwidth. On one side, you have Google creating optimal Internet access working with municipalities to provide infrastructure. On the other side, Apple is attempting to redefine Internet search and smart phone technology. Do either have the infrastructure support needed to provide access to the average American?
Last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $7.2 billion to expand broadband access in the US. However, who is holding the FCC accountable in this expedition? The Commission is required to have a legal basis for implementing each and every broadband recommendation. This means the regulatory arm may have lofty broadband goals, but in actuality, the process by which it must fulfill recommendations may take plenty of legal red tape and time.
The Commission proposed the creation of Digital Literacy Groups, a publicly funded outreach to address the low income areas with fragmented Internet access. The idea of the Groups is to educate the digitally impaired to assist in bridging the gap of those who may not afford broadband, do not feel that broadband is relevant to their lives, or lack skills in navigating the Internet. In terms of infrastructure, the Commission has encouraged local municipalities to work with the Department of Transportation to coordinate fiber optic installation with concurrent sidewalk, street, and drainage repairs. It is clear that it will, indeed, take a massive nation-wide effort to truly address the needs of access and broadband infrastructure in the US. However, emergent support is still needed from private companies to make our federal and municipal efforts a national reality.