The internet has opened doors to an unimaginable wealth of information, education and commerce opportunities; it has enabled emerging pro-democracy movements in Egypt and Algiers, has empowered dissidents worldwide and is closing geographical and physical gaps around the world.
The Internet is hands-down a great enabler. At the same time the gap between educated and under-educated, poor and rich, rural and urban, empowered and disenfranchised is growing – rapidly.
How are people around the world going to engage when they have no internet access? No access to on-line education, commerce, potential jobs and clients, information, social exchange, passing of ideas, or civic engagement? The more our world moves onto the internet the wider the gap becomes between the haves and have not’s of internet access and economic power.
To this day 70% of the U.S. population visits the public library not only for their reading and research projects, but also for their computer and internet use, according to departing New York Public Library president Paul LeClerc. (NY1 “New York Times close up” edition with Sam Roberts).
Within the thirty-four OECD states the U.S. has fallen from fourth place in 2001 to 15th place in 2006 in broadband penetration. (See graph) . Availability is one reason, pricing another. Where today Ireland and Switzerland are the countries with the best price points in the OECD for adding high speed internet to an existing phone line, the US is in the lower third of that list.
If we want to keep up economically with the rest of the world (Asia foremost and Europe) we have to make sure that all areas of the United States have access to broadband internet; and soon. The lost potential of talent and the education gap are too great to ignore.