So I was scrolling through my RSS reader and came across a blog post, “Third World America,” by edtech maven David Warlick, his keynote was the subject of my previous post. In it he discusses how he was in rural Wisconsin, speaking to educators as part of a professional development event, and he had no access to the Internet in his hotel. As he spoke to the teachers he also states:
“But what was hovering just beyond these conversations was the fact that a
large percentage of the population that these educators serve are without
Internet and a larger percentage who do have it, are still dialing in. Part of
the problem is that the area is fairly economically depressed.”
Ironically, I had just been discussing the same issue in a class I am taking to prepare to teach an online course next semester, through a virtual high school. The reality is that there are all kinds of students that will miss the opportunity of online learning simply because they do not have necessary access, which is quickly meaning broadband, let alone the other kinds of artificial governors that schools place on which students get to take online courses. And to think, I will be teaching this course through consortium in which my public school employer is a member!
Even more ironic, I was just speaking with my good friend Joanne, who recently moved to rural Washington. She too was experiencing all kinds of obstacles to obtaining Internet access. The best suggestion to her, at this point, was to build a 100 foot tower on her property, to get above the tree line, so that she could install a satellite dish at the top. Mind you, none of the service providers were even willing to guarantee that the dish would even work!
So, I found myself practically having the same conversation for three days in a row.
All of this got me piping hot about this Internet access issue, and completely agreeing with Warlick’s conclusion:
“Today, geography should not be a factor in who has access to the world of information, who the world of information has access to, nor who has the opportunities to tap into the info-verse and harness opportunities to serve and participate in the emerging global economy.”
He is right on the mark with this post. Moreover, this is a whistle that has not been blown loud enough.
We are already at a point where over half of the packet traffic on the Internet is rich content, demanding broadband connections. To not have a broadband connection in the not too distant future will be to slowly slide deeper and deeper into a “dark age,” which is unconscionable in our country. One of the promises of technology and innovation is that it is a democratizing force in our society, allowing people increased opportunity and information; but we are quickly approaching the moment where that simply is not the case. The price of broadband entry is already high for many and not likely to get any better quickly. So the democratization of technology is really for the haves, while the have nots look to be just plain out of luck.
Robert X. Cringely also wrote some columns about the promised state of broadband access in this country (“When Elephants Dance,” “Game Over,” and “The $200 Billion Rip-Off”), and they chart a history that is downright criminal. Worse yet the real problem is that it doesn’t seem as if many people are even concerned about such a looming crisis. The articles are alarming to say the least.
Much of the Bill Moyers reporting Warlick even mentions is available at the PBS website “Moyers on America – The Net at Risk.” The transcripts, audio, and video are all unavailable.
Not addressing this issue seems to me, not only shameful, but positively un-American.
While usually gung ho on bringing up the subject of America as a Third World Country based on income ratios, thinking of “Third World America” on the basis of broadband issues seems a bit much. Third world countries that I have been to have, for most of the population, no water, food, or electricity. Very little broadband.
I agree with the premise of your post. Broadband is the new equivalent of pencil and paper – a bare minimum essential for participating in the educational opportunities available via the Internet. Thanks for this great post on “access,” which will be included in today’s Educational Technology Blog Carnival!