We must close ‘digital divide’ for equality of opportunity

The+Appalachian+Online

The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

In this country, we’ve come to accept certain narratives about ourselves. We like to see ourselves as innovators, especially in the field of technology.

In terms of our society, we like to speak of the United States where everyone has the opportunity to succeed regardless of their starting point in life.

Certainly, there is some basis for these claims. Yet, our failure when it comes to quality Internet access blows a hole in both these narratives.

The FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report revealed that 17 percent of Americans “lack access to advanced broadband.” In rural areas, the number rises to 53 percent.

Given that reality, it was welcome news earlier this month that North Carolina would be receiving $19 million annually for the next six years from the FCC to bring quality broadband to needy areas. Portions of Watauga County will be among the areas served by the initiative, the Watauga Democrat reports.

Such proposals are good, and I hope to see more in the future so that we can finally close what experts call the “digital divide.” But a more drastic change needs to take place – a change in how we view the Internet.

It seems that many people who have relatively stable access to the Internet take it for granted. Not that people do not value the Internet at all, but that they overlook what makes it so important.

At this point, the Internet is a major hub for human lives. It has emerged as the primary forum for communication, information and commerce.

As such, the Internet has important political and social implications. To be an effective participant, not only in the economy but also civil society, you have to be able to get online.

And that reality touches strongly on our national mission. Tragically, a technology that has such potential for increasing opportunity has become yet another sector for inequality.

This inequality, like much inequality in the United States, divides along the predictable demographic and geographic lines.

For people in this area, the effects on rural communities are certainly some of the most important.

A 2012 Hudson Institute study found that the access disparities had important economic impacts on both local and national economies, particularly in the way the lack of access precludes productivity increases in farming.

So I am glad that it looks like North Carolina is making progress and that Watauga County will be helped in the process.

But I also wish we would work harder to finally close this divide and move that much closer to achieving a true equality of opportunity.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.