Bringing the Internet to Harlem

While browsing through my reader I came across a story about the Wireless Harlem Initiative on Scientific American. The Wireless Harlem Initiative's (WHI) stated mission is to, "Close the 'digital divide' by making access to information ubiquitous for all its residents." This is pretty important idea and, I think, exposes an under appreciated problem, the so called, "digital divide". In New York City it costs anywhere (this is approximate) between $30 a $70 per month for a "household" to establish high speed internet service in their homes. This is a very high price to pay for families at low income levels, so much so that is probably, largely, dismissed out of hand.

One major reason for the high price is a strangle hold held by a few internet service providers over the city. For example, where I live in Brooklyn, the only service available to me is through Time Warner, thus insuring no competition for my business. Also, the prices for internet service are higher unless you "bundle" it with cable and digital phone (does anyone use digital phone?). But, I digress.

Access to the internet has become an afterthought for many. Can you imagine your life without it? While many people simply use the internet for simple email access or occasional shopping, more "advanced" users have been using it for years to shape public opinion and voice their opinions. A great example of the power of the internet is the online political site DailyKos. That blog has become so powerful that it attracted all Democratic nominees for President to its yearly convention to take questions from its largely way left members. On a more basic level, many jobs, especially higher paying jobs, only allow for application for employment by electronic means.

The digital divide is leaving people behind and it should come as no surprise that those being left behind are, again, low income minorities. The internet is becoming the most important meeting point for people with ideas and desires for change. The future of organization on local and national (global?) scales is the internet. Luckily, many of those who are most "tech savy" tend to be liberal and thus accepting (or at least not antipathetic to) making sure that the internet become accessible to all. At this point the internet should be considered to be on par with broadcast television or AM radio. The internet really is just cable access on a ton of steroids. As such it should be 100% free. Of course specifics of bandwidth could be dealt with, i.e., high speed internet access is free up to a reasonable point so that all can have access.

Of course, something so large scale would never be government run so organizations like WHI are important. In addition to working to establish a network of WiFi hot spots in Harlem they say they will be working with other groups to get computers and presumably other necessary hardware out to members of the community.

Hopefully soon, blogs will be created by pissed off citizens of Harlem calling attention to the injustices that affect them. Hopefully, they will be able to comment on news stories about issues that matter to them or issues they want to affect. Hopefully, they will be able to use the internet to have their voice heard.

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