Monday, February 28, 2005

government records going away? going online?

This article was forwarded to me...thought it might be of interest...

Governing in the Dark: Librarians are once again fighting to keep public records public
BY DAN MALONE Fort Worth Weekly Online

Sunday, February 27, 2005

project proposals

1 - Creating new divides: How "Barrett v. Rosenthal" could fundimentally alter online discourse. (BvR is a case currently before the California Supreme Court that revisits the Communications Decency Act provision that essentially makes ISPs and linkers to defamitory content free from liability. The case has some momentum, and if successful would make aspects of blogging, review-posting on Ebay or Amazon, setting up weblinks, even sharing articles via email potentially very expensive...)

2 - Autism and the Internet: How new technologies are opening up doors for people dealing with autism spectrum disorders, and how this bridging of both a social divide creates new digital ones. And mixed metaphores. Can bridges have doors?

On an unrelated note: What a boring Oscar telecast.

Project proposal #2, Melanie

I propose a review project that examines the existing literature on use of the internet by Native Americans. Since the earliest reports on the internet and digital divide, Native Americans have figured in discussions, even though statistically they have dropped below the radar in key surveys. This scope of the review would encompass both printed and online sources, then focus on 2 key sources. Unfortunately, as with other literature on the social impacts of technology, the effects on underserved and rural populations is scarce. It may be useful to compare the tone and context of printed vs. online sources.

Project proposal #1, Melanie

I propose a research project that examines use of the Internet as a social justice tool by Native Americans in the Cobell v. Norton case. This legal case was brought by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfoot tribe member, who sued in 1996 to have the Department of Interior account for billions of dollars in mismanaged Indian Trust fund accounts and to reform the Trust system. For over 100 years, Trust mismanagement was a sad legend within tribal communities, and even within US government. It was only the advent of the Internet and its use to research government records which finally allowed tribes to gather a critical mass of evidence against the DOI. Judges have repeatedly ordered the DOI to disconnect its computer systems from the Internet due to security issues involving the Trust. Therefore, one must ask: how has the Internet emerged as a tool to leverage social justice in this case? My thesis will argue that Indian tribes in pursuing the Cobell v. Norton case have used the internet for its ultimate social good. Also, I will argue, the competing views of the "right" to internet access by the tribes and the DOI illuminate the government's key role in addressing the problem of universal access.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Too much of a good thing?

In Connected to the Future: A report on the children's Internet use, the authors document an increase in digital media use. They state, "...we can safely predict that children will be living increasingly digital lives." and "... children are spending more and more time with digital media relative to watching television." I interpret these two statements to mean that one day kids will be on-line rather than watch television.

Over the years there has been a push to encourage kids to watch less television. I recall that for the last two years, my daughter's school has participated in a national(?) week where kids do not watch tv. If fact, I thought that it sponsored by PBS (but my memory fails me). I thought that the purpose of this week was to encourage kids to be more active. The comments in this article made me ponder .... what if, rather than watch tv, kids just go on-line? They still continue their sedentary habits and childhood obesity continues to grow.., etc. What do you think -- Can kids be online too much? Will we one day have a national no internet week for kids?

Measuring web site use

One thing is not clear to me.
To calculate the price of a space for an ad, both TV and radio, have estimations of the audience that could be exposed during specific programs and times in the day. If you want an ad you just have to multiply the cost of the space you want for the times you want to run your ad. So I guess works for the Internet. Do you want to place an ad? Just multiply the time your ad will run for the price assigned on the base of the estimation of the amount of audience that will see that site.
However, the New York Times article says that "[the] audience measures are not used to set Internet advertising rates, as they are in radio and television [...] On the Internet, Web sites charge to display an advertisement a certain numbers of times."
I'm confused.
So what's the purpose of audience measuring? Why do it? Why media buyer are asking for more precise estimations? Why they are asking, according to NYT, for estimation models that resembles those used for traditional media?
If audience measures are not used to set advertising rates, how are calculated ad spaces on different sites? An ad on the NYT is more expensive than one, let's say, on my site...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I found it interesting that Pew found that those who feel they have more control over their lives are more likely to be wired than those who don't feel they have control. It must be a money issue then, because it would seem that the "out of control" people would get more use out of the net than anyone else since the computer and the net are usually marketed as time savers and managers. These people must never have heard that you can do your banking, grocery shopping, buy tickets for any type of show you might want to see, use it as a yellow pages, library, mail system, etc. It just seems to me that these might be solutions to some peoples' hectic lives.

Shocked to my foundation.

Well, perhaps not that dramatic but I was nonetheless very surprised to read just how many government websites are not up to the current standards of accessibility for the disabled (meeting W3C standards: 47% of federal, 33% of state, 20% city sites [Acheiving e-government for all]). I found these numbers especially shocking because, knowing nothing about webdesign, I attended a very simple introduction to it through DoIT. The first thing I remember them talking about, and what I found most interesting at the time, was that things like Jaws programs are dependent on the format and layout of the website. What I took away from that little intro was that it was easy and responsible to format the page with headers, paragraphs, and other titles. Have I simply been mislead on how easy it really is to design a site to be accessible? Knowing little to nothing about these sorts of things I should hope that it is quite complicated for our assorted governments to be so irresponsible about such things.

Closely watched?

In Connected to the future: A report on children's internet use, the "Digital Shepherds" section the amount of adult regulation is discussed. The study found that between the ages of 6-12 76% reported that an adult is in the same room or nearby when working online. I found the percentages found to be interesting, but I also found it interesting that an adult was "in the room or nearby." The article was discussing the safety of knowing what children are doing online; however, just because there's an adult in the room doesn't mean that the work being done is monitored at all. I remember in junior high, my computer class would get an assignment to do for the period. The assignment never took the whole time, and after we'd finish each of us had complete access to whatever we wanted to do online. Techincally we had a teacher in the room, but he never seemed to notice that we weren't working on anything school related while playing games or looking up celebrity info. We could have gone to almost any website or looked up anything that we wanted, and still been under the supervision of an adult. I'm not saying that children should have someone looking over their shoulder all the time while online, but isn't there another way to watch what is going on? If not, there should be better explaination in studies such as these to the extent of supervision. As parents read an article like this one, they might think that their child is safe because an adult is in the room. Are they?

Internet users age 2-5 = money?

According to the “Connected to the Future” article, preschool children had the largest increase in internet use (between the years of 2000 and 2002) of any age or demographic group. Hmmm. As of 2002 (as reported by their parents), 35% of children ages 2-5 used the internet. I’m not sure how to use statistics correctly--there is surely something wrong with comparing percentages across studies—but, regardless, I need to compare this with % of internet users in the article “The Ever-Shifting Internet Population”. It seems that a higher percent of 2-5 year olds are internet users than adults of any ethnicity with less then a high school level education or who are making less than $20,000/year. What does this mean?
Also, 2-5 year olds had NO evidence of a “digital divide” with regards to ethnicity (maybe one in favor of Hispanic families—but that is a topic for class), but these children do have one with regards to income of family. Since this week’s readings were related to commercial studies and groups I was reminded of how much money makes a difference in most everything is the United States.
Could it be that there is more money going into providing good web-sites/ software for three-year old consumers because they may have wealthy parents than towards adults with low education or low income levels? Probably yes. Might this be creating a cyclical effect of who uses the internet? (I think I could argue the same self-perpetuating cycle for things like advertising to a certain user group because they use the site, and reading levels also)

Accessibility of Websites

Some of the earlier reports have alluded to problems the physically disabled may have in accessing information over the Web, but "Achieving E-Government for All" is the first to discuss this issue at any length.

I think it's easy for most of us to forget that the Web is not always kind to the disabled. On the Web we imagine that it shouldn't matter what you look like or if your body is weaker in some ways than other people, but many popular Web design elements shut out whole segments of the population.

When I was in high school I had a friend who was blind, and she used e-mail and chatted on local BBSes. However, this was in the "old days". Most online content was just text and you used typed commands instead of a mouse. It was possible (if a bit slow and awkward) for a blind person to participate in the online world if she had a Braille keyboard and a text-to-speech synthesizer. Today, a blind person is at a much greater disadvantage online. As I'm typing this post I can see all kinds of buttons and icons on my screen that I could click on to do different things, but people who are visually impaired may find it difficult or impossible to interact with a visual-based setup like this.

A group whose needs are often ignored when it comes to web design is the color blind. Printed text is almost always black-on-white, but on the Web it's possible to make the text and background almost any color. Certain color combinations will result in a page that's illegible to a color blind person. Some color combinations are difficult for anyone to read (especially if their monitor is old and dim) but are chosen for aesthetic reasons without regard to legibility. In the early days of the Web I remember seeing a lot of pages that were dark magenta on light magenta or light blue on dark blue, and I had to highlight the whole page in order to read it. Government websites typically use more conservative color schemes, but there may still be problems with banner headings or buttons.

The Internet Worried

In reading the Pew study, I found myself drawn to the numbers of people who were non-users because they feared the content or were leary of lurking criminal activity.

Just this week we heard that thousands of consumers will receive letters that their information has been compromised by ChoicePoint, a personal information 'clearinghouse'. Oh, they got cleared alright. Last week or so, one of the local stations featured a weeklong series on SPYWARE LURKING ON YOUR COMPUTER, which was no doubt a 'packaged' news service product with local reporter segues. And who watches and diligently picks up on all the fear mongering in the media most of all? Judging by the omnipresent pharmaceutical ads, it's older Americans. Is it any wonder, then, that so many of them are firmly non-users.

Beyond the fear factor, many of the older people I know, just like in the article, really do have technology learning barriers to overcome. Remote controls and car radios pose substantial problems for older Americans; I can see how they would be overwhelmed by the complexities of a home computer. Before he passed away in 2003, I am not sure my father ever even sat alongside someone who was online to get at least a sense of what is out there.

In light of the stubborn disinterest of many older, rurual, less-educated Americans, I don't see how efforts to reduce the divide between them and the online population can be very successful.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Government for the People?

I found the article “Achieving E-Government for All” to be interesting. The survey taken of government agency websites reveals how important the internet has become for the government. It’s a cost saving measure to transfer information to an electronic format. Budget cuts have made these agencies chose between serving all the public ineffectively, or not at all, and embracing this new form of communication. However, because there are still quite a few people not on the internet, for a variety of reasons, this new way to access government information still isn’t helping all the public. Is it better for agencies to continue embracing electronic services, or is there an even better way information can reach the public? Or do the websites that lacked ease of readability and interactivity need to reassess their goals for reaching the public?

State Street Power Outage

Seems an electrical fire wreaked havoc on the Isthmus Monday -- as most of you likely experienced, power went out along State Street, University, and various places around campus.

In the journalism department, it was interesting -- with the computers off, the network down, most classes and labs were cancelled -- I ultimately snuck off and after waiting in vain for a bus, walked home.

Walking down State, I was quite struck by how many businesses were closed. Restaurants I could understand, but small clothing shops? The security systems, cash registers, credit card machines... it really hadn't occurred to me how network/electricity dependent EVERY PLACE was. (The liquor store sold me some M&Ms, they made change out of a cigar box.)

Felt all digital dependent and delightfully divided. Of course, local businesses were less pleased. On one of the difficult-to-watch local stations, the manager of Fontana Sports, for example, estimated their lost business in the thousands -- I'm sure restaurants and others were hurt far more.

Reminded me of the months leading up to Jan. 1, 2000. Working in DC, I was covering how a lot of government agencies were dealing with their expensive Y2K bug upgrades. While most federal offices were on the ball, the District of Columbia itself needed little work at all. Why? They were one of the last areas of the country to still have their files almost entirely paper-based. As someone who had to go through the DMV there from time to time, this was more often than not a pain. But both events reminded me of the Pew article, and the idea of those who "dropped out" from online life. There can be benefits...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Time to clean out your basement!

Weren't we talking about selling all this old computer stuff on e-bay? Looks like Christie's had the same idea:

Third try...

I just wrote a long post, wasn't entirely done but almost, and then kicked out the computer power cord....TWICE! How am I so coordinated?!? Anyway, this time I am going to write a short one. (Note to self: save long posts as drafts)
What I will write about is how the readings seemed to affect me strangely. I feel very skeptical about the way some of the readings discuss the "digital divide" especially the "digital opportunity" but, I also feel skeptical about my skepticism.
In terms of the catagories in Entering the Broadband Age, I am a "No Internet Access at Home; Uses the Internet at least once a week but not every day". For personal use, I only use the internet for communication. For school I use the internet in a variety of ways. I have a computer at home but I don't use it, it sits in the closet by my choice. I could get the Internet but choose not to. This position is part of why I am skeptical about how people talk about how much computer/Internet use people need. For example: is it really the goal to make sure every person has a computer with broadband connection at their house? Whose goal is this? Granted, the hearing in the reading was from the Subcommittee on Empowerment, Committee on Small Business so it was going to be coming from the market based, business perspective. Still, at least one of the speakers felt very odd to me. I personally am more interested in making sure that people have some sort of access to the Internet first. As it is, I feel like we have spent hours discussing the definitional issues of this topic and a long time discussing "basic access" and didn't really come to a conclusion. It feels strange to keep going, when we haven't reached any sort of concensus.
As for being skeptical of my skepticism...I have the priveledge of choosing not to have the Internet at home but using it elsewhere, when needed. Maybe if I had never had access to the Internet at libraries and didn't even have a telephone company that would give me a phone, I would feel differently--probably.
Also, do I not know what the internet has to offer me? I have heard that said more than once, that "if people only knew..." I am questioning that and I am questioning myself.
( I guess I did write a long time again after all...and I still didn't ask a direct question)

The more things change. . ..

What I found rather interesting from reading the reports from 1984, 1995 and 2003 is the shift that has happened in what people view the use of computers to be. In 1984 people owned computers to learn how to use them. By 1995 and 2003 that wasn’t even an option. By those later times they were owned primarily for internet access. Eventually in 2003 what is being studied is not computer ownership as the indicator for access but high speed internet.

Also striking is how, when asked why they don’t have a computer, people didn’t generally respond that it was too expensive but rather that they weren’t interested or the computer has no use to them. Do you think that this is true? If this is the case why are so many going to public spaces to use the internet?

How would you fit the trends of computer use over time into the models we saw last time? Do we have enough evidence to make a case for either the normalization or stratification S-curves?

Income explanation

In his explanation about income, Mr. Irving (p.5) posits that the lower penetration rate in the under $5,000 income bracket is due to students.

I am assuming that this is referring to college students. This explanation seems to contradict the reports from last week that showed students as having more access to computers and the Internet. Further, as I look around campus and think about 'college life' it seems that students probably have the greatest access to computers and Internet. Even if he was referring to high school students (with parttime jobs?), it would seem that they too would have access through the schools.

What do you think about with Mr. Irving's explanation? Are my assumptions about students incorrect?

Thursday, February 17, 2005


In "The Digital Divide: Bridging the Technology Gap," the notion of e-rate is discussed. Mr. Miller brought up the e-rate program that "pays for internet access for schools and libraries." I thought that this was a very interesting concept and had never really thouht about it. I never thought about how my high school was funded for our internet use or computer technology. I think that the concept of a program to ensure that schools and universities have interenet access and pay for it is a wonderful idea. The hearing that this was discussed at was back in 1999. In today's society a lot of concern is still going on about the accessiblity of the internet to the people. A solution for a program that ensures that everyone in the United States had internet access would be a wonderful fund. This would be an extremely hard task though. Now I've been thinking about all of the computers that people have in their homes that are of no use to them, because they have newer updated ones. Yet people don't get rid of them, because of the value that was once paid. With technology advances, do you ever think that there could be some way to re-use older computers by changing something in them for better use in today's society? And if so, could those computers be used to help the accessibility of the internet to those people who don't have it currently? Rather than schools or libraries getting a computer that was donated and outdated, they could receive an older model with new applications for the students to gain practice on. Just a random thought.

Telephone penetration

I'm surprised that "the lowest telephone penetration exists in central cities". According to 'Falling though the net: A survey of the "Have Nots" in rural and urban area', only 79.8 percent have a telephone in central cities, followed by rural (81.6) and urban (81.7). I can't understand why. I would expect the contrary. Could anybody explain me why? I don't have a clue.
Furthermore, the definition of central city it's not clear to me. I'm very confused, especially when I read "there is no relation between data for central city and data for urban versus rural." What does it mean? Maybe that it is not possible to do a comparison between data because they doesn't share the same population scale?


Yikes. I'm out sick with the flu in a big way. So no class tomorrow morning. We'll pick up the discussion next week.

The gov't and how it can help your community

I have to say that the "Hearing before the subcommittee on empowerment" reading was one of the more interesting and human articles we've had to read so far. It seems as though there are definitely some people out there that want to help less fortunate people get access and care about having it. The main problems, it seems, are getting people to think that it is worth the money to have it and that it can be a useful part of their lives. And of course the problem of people needing the training to use the internet. I really liked Larry Irvings statement about the infrastructure of the internet not being compelling to minorities. That the top 100 sites aren't by or about minorities, or that magazines aimed at minorities have no advertisements for computers. These are problems that should be given serious thought. But, even if the government gave more money to schools and libraries for internet access to those rural places in the south, would the people use it, is the incentive there, or if it is there do they know how to use it? I like that they have started introducing learning and technology centers in the housing projects, and that a bill was introduced in the House which would provide tax incentives for companies to do IT training for the less economically advantaged. I wonder if it was passed.

Philadelphia Hopes for a Lead in the Wireless Race (NYT)

Here's an interesting tidbit relating to our discussions of digital divide so far, and something that might make a good paper topic.

February 17, 2005

Philadelphia Hopes for a Lead in the Wireless Race

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 11 - If Mayor John F. Street has his way, by next year this 135-square-mile metropolis will become one gigantic wireless hot spot, offering every neighborhood high-speed access to the Web at below-market prices in what would be the largest experiment in municipal Internet service in the country.

City officials envision a seamless mesh of broadband signals that will enable the police to download mug shots as they race to crime scenes in their patrol cars, allow truck drivers to maintain Internet access to inventories as they roam the city, and perhaps most important, let students and low-income residents get on the net.

Experts say the Philadelphia model, if successful, could provide the tipping point for a nationwide movement to make broadband affordable and accessible in every municipality. From tiny St. Francis, Kan., to tech-savvy San Francisco, more than 50 local governments have already installed or are on the verge of creating municipal broadband systems for the public.

But Philadelphia's plan has prompted a debate over who should provide the service, and whether government should compete with private industry, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas or low-income urban communities. Telecommunications and cable companies say that municipal Internet networks will not only inhibit private enterprise, but also result in poor service and wasted tax dollars. They have mounted major lobbying campaigns in several states to restrict or prohibit municipalities from establishing their own networks.

"This is a growing trend, but an ominous and disturbing one," said Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications studies at the libertarian Cato Institute and the author of a soon-to-be-released study criticizing the Philadelphia plan. "The last thing I'd want to see is broadband turned into a lazy public utility."

Philadelphia officials say that will not happen here. Mr. Street has said he will try to raise corporate and foundation financing so the strapped city does not have to pay the network's $10 million startup costs. He also says the city will recruit private companies to help operate the system, asserting it will earn enough revenue to be self-sustaining.

Though details of Mr. Street's plan are still being developed, the city expects to install 4,000 wireless antennas along lampposts across the city in the next 18 months, creating a network of broadband signals.

City officials also hope to extend service into homes and businesses in poor neighborhoods, using nonprofit organizations to provide low-cost equipment, training and service.

"Just as highways were a critical infrastructure component of the last century, wireless Internet access must be a part of our infrastructure for the 21st century," Mr. Street said last month in a speech before the United States Conference of Mayors.

Most municipally run Internet systems are in small rural towns, many of which provide service at below-market rates. Philadelphia is proposing to charge $15 to $25 a month for its service, half of what private servers now charge, and even less for low-income users.

Industry officials say that if the program takes off, it will inevitably take customers from providers like the Comcast Corporation or Verizon Communications.

"Is it fair that the industry pay tax dollars to the city that are then used to launch a network that would compete with our own?" asked David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia. "I don't think so."

Officials in Philadelphia and other municipalities contend they never intended to compete with private companies. Many say they want to provide Internet service only because students, small businesses and low-income residents cannot afford or obtain high-speed Internet access.

Philadelphia officials say a recent survey found that nearly 40 percent of residents did not have Internet service. But industry officials say that virtually every neighborhood in the city is wired for broadband and that many people are choosing not to buy it.

Industry officials and advocates of limited government also say providing Internet access is far more risky, complicated and expensive than government officials realize. Equipment will quickly become obsolete, and slow-moving governments will not keep pace, they say.

"Government doesn't do service well," said Eric Rabe, vice president for public relations for Verizon.

"And communications is complicated. The technology changes constantly. Verizon has 3.5 million D.S.L. subscribers," Mr. Rabe said, referring to digital subscriber lines, "and we're still trying to figure out how to make money at $30 per month."

Pushed by industry lobbyists, lawmakers in Kansas, Ohio, Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon and other states have proposed legislation to restrict or prohibit local governments from offering telecommunications services. Nearly a dozen states have already enacted some restrictions.

Verizon won a victory in Pennsylvania late last year when Gov. Edward G. Rendell signed a measure requiring that cities first give the main local phone company the right to build a high-speed Internet network. If the phone company proceeds within 14 months, the city must drop its plans . Philadelphia was exempted from the law.

In Kansas, the town of St. Francis, population 1,495, began offering Internet service nearly three years ago and now has 200 subscribers.

"We could not get anybody to provide us high-speed Internet," said J. R. Landenberger, city manager. "When that didn't work, we decided to do it ourselves."

In Scottsburg, Ind., a city of 6,000 near the Kentucky border, officials say a survey conducted in 2002 found that three local companies were considering moving or expanding elsewhere because they could not get broadband service.

The officials say they urged several providers to extend a network into town, but were told it was too small or remote to justify the cost. Consultants recommended that the town build a fiber network, at a cost of $5 million. Then city officials discovered wireless.

For an initial investment of $385,000, the town's municipally owned electric utility created a wireless broadband network for the entire county. Businesses now can buy high-speed service for $200 per month, about half the cost in nearby Louisville, Ky.

The service has about 600 subscribers, more than enough to cover its costs, town officials say. "We're just as pleased as we can be," Mayor Bill Graham said. "It's the same system they put into the Pentagon after Sept. 11. It is very secure, very fast and very reliable."

In Philadelphia, the skeptics argue that running a broadband network for a small town is far different from running one for a city of 1.5 million. Though installing a network of antennas might be straightforward, creating a system for billing, marketing and fielding service complaints will be far more difficult than the city imagines, they say. The city estimates the cost of maintaining the system will be $1.5 million a year.

"The real cost will be very different than what they think," Mr. Cohen of Comcast said.

Philadelphia officials say skeptics will come around when they see the power of broadband to attract business and improve the lives of poor people.

The Philadelphia plan will allow Internet users to roam anywhere in the city and remain connected, as long as they are outdoors, said Dianah Neff, the city's chief information officer. But bringing the signal indoors will require extra equipment. To help low-income residents acquire such equipment, the city plans to recruit a network of community organizations that can provide training, inexpensive computers and wireless equipment to eligible residents.

In West Philadelphia, the People's Emergency Center, a nonprofit group, is already providing such services, including after-school computer programs, wireless access at $5 a month, Web site development for small businesses and a program that helps welfare recipients communicate with caseworkers through the Internet. The group also sells refurbished computers to eligible residents for $125.

"Acquiring low-cost computers is the smallest problem," said Tan B. Vu, manager of the center's digital inclusion program. "The bigger problem is that people don't have Internet access. And that is where the city comes in."

One of the center's clients, Denise Stoner, 32, embodies both the promise and pitfalls of the city's plans.

A recently homeless mother who has a learning disabled son and a deaf daughter, both of whom have heart problems, Ms. Stoner has a refurbished desktop computer with broadband wireless service provided by the People's Emergency Center.

But her aging computer is slow and often hampered by viruses, which she depends on the center's technicians to eradicate. And while her 9-year-old son has improved his reading and spelling skills by using the Internet, he spends most of his time online playing games.

Still, Ms. Stoner has found both information and comfort from the Internet. She has learned sign language online to converse with her 2-year-old daughter. And she has discovered chat rooms for parents of children who have the same heart problems as her children.

"I ask them how they get by," she said of her e-mail conversations with people as far away as Africa. "They say they take it one day at a time."

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The New York Times > Technology > Philadelphia Hopes for a Lead in the Wireless Race

Corporate Incentives

In this week’s readings I’m most curious about something that was stressed in the “Digital Divide: Bridging the Technology Gap” report. “Aggressive enforcement of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act is essential if we are going to give consumers more bandwidth and more options to obtain bandwidth at a lower price” (P.9) is an interesting statement. By deregulating the telecommunications industry to allow for this competition to reach all people, it has led to greater competition, and buy-outs and corporate mergers. On page 8 of the same report, there’s a statement that letting the markets work naturally will allow technology providers the capability to reach their targeted customers. What incentives do corporations have to reach those left behind technologically? Another point that was stressed was how rapid the internet became an essential part of everyday life. Is it just too soon to gauge the market?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


I know quite well that some of our classmates were very young in 1984. I recall the year before I wrote a simple computer program in basic that had a sheep slide across the screen to "Mary Had a Little Lamb." That was amazing to those of us that just two years previously had dialed into a mainframe downtown that allowed us to play 'Star Trek' on a timeshare terminal. No graphics, just a keyboard and a dot matrix printer.

I chuckled at the statistic that many of the people used their computers for 'learning how to use them' back then. Can you imagine still 'learning to use' a vacuum six months after purchase?

My other major exposure to computers around that time was my brother's Apple IIe. He left it at my parents after he had moved out in the mid 80's. I used to play Olympic Decathalon on it...shattered Bruce Jenner's record. As an engineer, he used computers at work. I recall he was writing some sort of multidisk program, but I never learned what he hoped it could do.

My early exposure to computers had almost nothing to do with market forces. It had everything to do with the fact that I had a brother who was very well educated. Madison schools had everything to do with it. Instead of the forces of competition, what fueled my limited exposure to the technology was a significant investment by the state to provide resources for my school's math department and my brother's degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Nor was the Internet a product of the 'market'.

Government does not stand in the way of solving digital disparity. It can and must be part of a solution to address what one of the readings called a new 'civil right'.

What should the government do about digital divides?

After looking at all these government reports on various digital divides, I am curious as to what people think the US government should actually do about it. This is, of course, assuming that you think it is the government's role to do anything at all.

I suppose my fantasy situation would involve making Internet access a utility like electricity or water, available to everyone for a reasonable monthly fee. Perhaps the government could cast a wireless Internet blanket across the entire country! Then all computer owners in both urban and rural areas could enjoy the same level of high-speed access.

However, I realize that most Americans do not support government regulated industries and many would not trust an Internet service that could be under the eye of Big Brother. My fantasy scenario also would not solve the problem of divides based on computer ownership rather than Internet access or connection speed.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Why do government reports think geography is important?

All the reports in our readings this week emphasized the geographic location of the respondents, calling data sorted by geographic categories as a "critical" supplement to the service profile (1994 Falling, p2). This emphasis deserves some discussion.

For well over 100 years, US demographers have shown that place matters, and place is often a key factor in your "life chances" of education, work, and health. Similarly, the stratification model of owning/usage gaps (Norris p31) also can be viewed geographically. When factoring in your place, the normalization model fails. Those in the rural South may never have the equity of access & usage as those in the rural North, even if income and education are the same. Thus the reason for the geographic subtitle of the Falling article: "A Survey of the 'Have Nots' in Rural and Urban America". And not just rural/urban--thinking back to Norris' reading--even your global location affects your chances of access.

My question for this week is: given that all these reports suggest government intervention, would the government be discriminating by location if they concentrated our money at inner-city access problems instead of rural access? Who decides the greatest need?

The Motivation Divide

I have been thinking about the "motivation divide" in Internet use. In "The Digital Divide as a Complex and Dynamic Phenomenon", there is some information about people who do not own computers or do not use the Internet because they do not want to.

If these people really do not want to use the Internet, that is their choice. Some people choose not to own televisions or automobiles too. It is certainly possible for many people to get by without the Internet at all, or to use the Internet only for work-related tasks at the office. However, if people think they do not want to use the Internet because they do not know all the things it can be used for, that is unfortunate.

I suspect a lot of "off-liners" think the Internet is just for e-mail, games, pornography, and shopping. These aspects of the Internet get more publicity and advertising not just because they're popular, but because they're the most commercial. This is my bias, but it seems to me that there is really something for everyone on the Internet, if only they know how to look for it. How could the public be made more aware of the many other uses of the Internet?

Although it never did become common (or practical) to store your recipes on your PC, I think a site like All Recipes could be useful to almost anyone who cooks. Printed cookbooks can provide a large collection of recipes, but on the Web it's also possible to include comments and advice from other people who have tried the recipes and make the whole thing searchable by category, ingredient, and prep time. I can think of many other examples of useful Internet resources, but I'm sure a lot of people who might enjoy them don't know about them.

Then again, maybe the people who say they don't need the Internet are right. My grandmother always did fine without an online source for recipes.

Friday, February 11, 2005

High Hopes

In reading the “Social Inequalities” article I was struck by the statement, “the comparison of societies that are leaders and laggards in the information Age gives no support to the normalization thesis claim that income differentials necessarily diminish as Internet use widens throughout the population; if anything the reverse” (79). I found this surprising because I was given the impression from the first article that worries about digital divides often revolve around some people not having exposure to computers and digital technology, making them less appealing candidates in the job market. As internet use spreads the difference between rich and poor continues. Wouldn’t these findings prove that wrong or at least a non-issue? Is that really the issue at hand, as you see it?

Data in Social Inequalities

In Table 4.3 of the Norris book, there is an increase in percent on-line for each occupational status. This sample includes students. I would imagine that some of the people included in the 1996 student category are in the other categories in 1999. If this is indeed the case, should Norris control for this? Does this fact change any implications or conclusions drawn from the results? For example, the +30 results for managers be due in part to the graduation of students who were already using the Internet in 1996?
My question is very broad...and I guess I just want anyone who reads this before class to think about this for the discussion (I'm going to attempt to lead it). I have been thinking about why we read these three articles together for this week. Clearly, in upcoming weeks we are reading articles with more recent "data" relating to the digital divide. This week's discussion is going to attempt to answer "What is the digital divide?" in a more philosophical way--so, what are people's reactions to the articles in a general way...Do you think there is a digital divide (that may or may not go away)? Do you believe there is some technological divide but it can not be seperated from social contexts? Do you feel there are some gaps but these may change over time? If these articles take differing views on what the digital divide is, then through some sort of triangulation can we get closer to understanding the digital divide?

Lack of experience

In The Digital Divide as a Complex and Dynamic Phenomenon, there's a discussion of 4 different types of barriers to access and the type of access that's restricted. The first one listed, lack of elementary digital experience, caught my attention. As I pondered the amount of experience lost from "lack of interest, computer anxiety, and unattractiveness of the new technology" (315), I began to question what could be done to change such experiences. Would a better ratio of computer teachers in elementary school per students in each class have a better interest effect? If different programs were used with students would their appreciation of technology increase, and continue to increase over the years? What do you think could help as a solution to this problem?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What about the print divide?

Warschauer, talking about social embeddedness of technology, refers briefly to the Gutemberg revolution. He talks of the changes that such technical innovation brought to society. His point is to stress how much society and its technology are intertwined. This reference makes me wonder about similarities (if there are, and I think so) between the digital divide we are discussing about now and a "print divide" during the 16th Century. I'm not a mass media historician, but I think that there is more than one point in common between the two divides created by the Internet and the Gutemberg revolution.
I'll be very interested to discuss this point in class, because I think that the Internet, as a mass medium, is too young and still in its first stages of evolution. It is too difficult to pretend to understand the digital divide from an inside point of view. As for that, I feel that some kind of historical point of view on the past "divides" could help understand better what is going on. Norris did it with some media and their expansion patterns. Anyway, I think that the print revolution is a more suitable comparison with the changes that the Internet is bringing. Furthermore, most of you are in library studies and you surely know a lot about this medium that changed society (maybe more than the Internet could do).
If I think of past divides, for example, digital divide tracked by income isn't so much surprising to me, especially if I think that only wealthy people could afford books in the 16th Century.
Looking back, with Warschauer theories about interdependence of society and its technology in mind, the digital divide seems kind of less unknown... kind of...

Wireless Initiative

I am intrigued by the invitation sent to Greg about a Wireless project in Southwestern Wisconsin. I know I don't know all the details, but I did notice that the note only mentions technical considerations.

Is it any wonder that a (or several) divide (s) exist between Dane County and Southwestern Wisconsin? Here in the Madison Area, our working lives (see: white coller service sector, University & government) are saturated with ICT. Meanwhile, the areas farm communities have far less interaction with computers and the Internet, even if Farmer Halverson did get a PC for the business, or for his children or grandchildren.

For my part, I would be glad for a little more balance between us. I spent most of my day sitting in front of my PC, stealing glances out the window at the sunshine.

I would be curious to see whether the discussion in Platteville tomorrow begins with a conversation about community, or if technology is all that is on the agenda.

Digital Divides around the world

I guess, to answer Melanie's question, the biggest assumption that changed for me after this reading was that the "World Wide Web" wasn't actually being used as much in other countries. One of the most interesting facts from "Digital Divide" for me was that the U.S. contains an estimated 3/4 of all e-commerce sites worldwide, 79% of the world's internet hosts, 59% of the world's electronic mailboxes, and 54% of online buyers. We do only count as 39% of the world's internet users, but that is still a significant amount. It sounds like the worlds most affluent country has the most influence on the information highway.
I thought that one of the big perks of the internet was that we were going to communicate easier with people all around the world. But it sounds like its just us and the Netherlands that are interested in it. I do realize that the internet is relatively new (about 10 years old, right?), and as a more economically sound country we get in on the new technology a little quicker than some other countries. I guess my question is, do you think that in the next ten years there will be a significant or drastic change in the amount of internet users from foreign countries?

Diffusion Patterns

In this week’s readings, I found the S-curve Pattern for digital diffusion interesting. On P. 30 of "Understanding that Digital Divide" it states, "The theory predicts that given saturated demand, prices will fall further to attract new users, allowing laggards to catch up, so that eventually access to digital technologies become pervasive." The article then went on to list different types of media saturation levels. Will the internet follow the same "S-curve"? What I'm curious about is at what point can there even be a saturation point for computer technology? It's constantly changing or becoming outdated by new innovations. Will eventual government regulations fix this constant change or will the competition of the marketplace, as stated on P. 70 in "Social Inequalities", normalize the differences of technology? I would think competition would aid the divide, not fix it.

Breaking assumptions about gaps and divides

Warschauer's 'Conclusion' was a good contrast this week to the other 2 readings. Norris' chapters was an extra-US look at ICT usage gaps and Van Dijk et al attempted to get past assumptions, both using statistics and multiple sources. Yet in Warschauer's discussion of embedded social values in ICTs, I found myself wondering about the author's assumptions, and kept tripping over odd parenthetical comments, such as "think, for example, how the microwave oven has facilitated the entry of women into the workplace" (208) and "a kitchen, a tool shed, a farm" (203). A common point among all 3 readings is that, as researchers, we must constantly examine our assumptions because, unlike the social change we want to understand, our assumptions are at risk to get rooted. A scarcity of longitudinal statistics and fluid social effects make it easy to fall back into our assumptions. At the end of these readings, I have realized that a few of my assumptions had become stuck and amerocentric, e.g. assuming that a possession gap would close the usage gap more than what statistics indicate. Norris' data on differences among EU nations was the most challenging. I also find I need to re-think ICTs as acting from underneath social structures to really riding on and amplifying existing structures. My question this week is this: what assumptions changed for you after these readings, and what data seemed to prove its point more strongly?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Community project opportunity: Southwestern WI

Folks, got this in my email the other day and told the fellow I'd pass it on to my class to see if anyone had an interest in pursuing this as a project (or as a concerned citizen, if you have connections to the area).

Professor Greg Downey:  This email explains a meeting I have organized.  Having reviewed your website, I am wondering if this is of interest to you.  In my view, the digital divide is in rural southwest WI.  Most incomes are low to moderate and cannot afford satellite.  DSL and cable do not reach much of the rural area, regardless of income level and build-out by current providers is slow.  For fiber optic door to door to become economic may take decades.  BPL has big questions and costs, so it could be as slow as DSL to reach the un-served.  Meanwhile, technology advances in fixed wireless appear to give it the most promise to serve throughout rural regions with added advantages related to mobility.  You are most welcome to attend the Feb. 11 meeting.  If you would be interested to provide a technical or other advisory role should local leaders want to pursue a wireless broadband initiative, please let me know.  If you can envision a role for students to be involved, from your class or as part of their academic direction, please let me know.  If you have general comments about this meeting and this wireless broadband technology, I would welcome that.  Finally, please forward this to faculty, students, et al you think might find this meeting/initiative of interest.  Thank you, Tom Jackson


Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
719 Pioneer Tower, Platteville, WI 53818

For release:      February 4, 2005

Information:      Tom Jackson, E.D. Planner, SWWRPC
              , 608.342.1056, c 608.778.1180


Platteville…..Providing a kick start to community and economic development through truly high-speed wireless broadband internet access for a rural county will be the topic of a public information meeting in the southwestern Wisconsin community of Lone Rock on Friday, February 11, 2005.

Ken Schlager, PhD, P.E. and President of Bioelectromagnetics, Inc., will make a presentation on the Telecommunications for Rural America project he has underway in Rusk County, Wisconsin.  Schlager seeks a second county interested in wireless broadband service to prove the technology will work in hilly as well as flat topography and could serve any rural region of America. The Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission organized the meeting.

The wireless mesh network technology is many times faster than current available DSL and cable internet service.  The most exciting promise of wireless technology is the ability to bring a combination of very-high speed internet services, including telephone, mobile phone, and teleconferencing to a rural region at much more affordable build-out costs than is possible with overhead or buried lines.

Tom Jackson, Economic Development Planner for the SWWRPC, said he is inviting officials from municipalities and the counties of the southwest region to the meeting as well as representatives from any interested telecommunication and internet service providers.

“A City of Reedsburg representative will attend to describe how private sector partners were essential to that city’s telecommunication utility,” Jackson said.


“At this meeting, we want private and public sector entities to start the process that can lead to a successful partnership to implement this wireless technology.  Mr. Schlager has identified possible funding sources that could make this a rare opportunity for a rural county to make a huge leap forward in community and economic development at a very affordable cost.  Increasingly applications require broadband such as distance education, medical services delivery and working from home, it benefits the whole community.”

The meeting will be held from 10:00 a.m. until noon at the Village of Lone Rock community building, 130 E. Liberty St., one-half mile south of Highway 14 and one block east of Highway 130.  For full information on this wireless broadband opportunity, go to, and link to economic development.  For information about the meeting, contact Tom Jackson, at or call 608.342.1056.

Friday, February 04, 2005

My question is related to Part 7, Embedded Networks. If computing devices are embedded into products to allow for greater surveillance by government and will the differences show up? Will people with more money have more products and therefore incur more surveillance? Would someone without a house/apartment and old clothing be subjec to less? Or maybe people with more money would be able to chose to buy products that are guarenteed to NOT have embedded computing devices except for the ones they want (e.g. in their toaster etc). One respondent stated "innovators of these tools have consistently been ahead of government efforts to counter their influence". Who are the innovators of these tools? Who will have the ability to "be ahead of government efforts"? Would someone without a computer be under more or less surveillance? I'm curious about how this situation (if it did occur) would affect citizens differently based on divides and differences?

Zealots in politics, religion and violence, oh my!

This report seemed plagued with the idea that the internet is intrinsically . .. something. That it produces all sorts of catastrophic and generally undesirable things. On a number of instances the respondents pointed this fact out with one expert saying, "The internet is a medium not a motivator." As a medium it can only express what is already present in society. For every group that forms with undesirable consequences like religious affiliation (?) there are an equal number of people forming and finding groups to foster their interest in Anglo-Saxon literature, Clivia cultivation or any number of more benign activities. Yes, groups will be able to form more readily, just as they were able to do with inexpensive print media and telephones.

On the topic of medical information: I am pleased to see that there were no mentioned respondents who felt that such information should be restricted from the public because they are unable to comprehend it and use it effectively. I don't believe that access to medical information would necessarily make better educated patients so much as it would make more confident patients. They will know what treatments are available even if they haven't properly analyzed them in terms of their own condition. While there is not enough information for patients to start self-treatment, they will come to learn that there are a number of opinions on any one medical condition and they should be more educated about committing to one thing. This is one topic that is especially applicable to digital divides. Why should people less versed in internet searching be any less able to locate the same medical information? What are some other aspects of life that can be seen in this way, necessary for everyone to be able to access?

The Future of Religion

I agree with the last comment on religion, it's potential on the internet is vastly underrated by these experts we've been reading about. The internet, if nothing else, is a great place for zealots to advertise their beliefs. Commercial time is expensive, but blog space is very cheap and easy. Jesus or Buddha or Mohammad or whatever icon people are into these days, are very commercially viable for the pious people of the world. And as someone mentioned earlier this week, the internet is great because we can get all these views and choose to ignore them as we please. If we get a pop-up to join the Church of Latterday Saints, we can just close that window. Of course I don't really want this kind of spam on the internet, I'm just saying this is one possible place religion can go if it wants to be part of the future of the Internet. Is it because religion is so conservative in its ways that they don't think it will change in the next decade?

Impact on religion

While I agree with the comment that religion is a personal field, I disagree with the impact of the Internet. I think that the impact on religion may be understated. The practice of religion has both a personal and community component. For example, groups of Christian believers gather on Sundays in churches for collective worship services, groups of Islam/Muslim believers in mosques for prayer, and groups of Jewish believers gather on Saturdays(?).
For Christians there is an increasing number of televangelists broadcasting from mega-churches and Christian television networks (eg TBN) (sorry I don't know if this exists in other religions). These televangelists also have websites and broadcast their worship services on-line. The availability of an on-line service may have an impact on religion by providing alternative worship services and allowing Internet users to join in social networks that are not local.
If use of the internet will increase social networks and religion has a social component, can one expect the internet to have a larger impact on religion?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Better Education

I found it interesting to read Part 8 of the report regarding formal education. Majority of the experts agreed that most students would be spending more time working on computers for virtual classes, etc. One of the experts mentioned that only wealthier schools would be able to afford the accommidations for such access. Then another expert discussed that it would be, and is, a valuable addition to universities. As an undergrad currently, I have known people that have taken courses online, and the material needs to be learned in a completely different way. The student needs to first of all make sure that their attention is completely toward the online lecture when viewing it, then there isn't the same interaction between the student and professor/ta or interactions between students. My question goes back to whether or not this is actually a good learning technique? I think that if there are going to be classes offered like this the students should have open exposure to that sort of teaching earlier in life. Is the solution to have certain online curriculum needed earlier in schooling to open this technique? Could the extra curriculum be available to everyone, and how?


My Granpa, who was a wise man, when was asked to foresee something was used to say something that sounds like this: "If you could make me foresee the future, then I could make you a king."

Predictions are ok, I like them. It's something we can talk about for hours. It's fun to predict and then check out who was right. We even play with prediction: We bet on horses, soccer games, whatever else... But we should not, in my opinion, take predictions too seriously, even if they came from "experts".
As my granpa was trying to teach me, nobody see the future, neither do experts.
If someone could do it, the million experts in soccer who spend billions of words on which team will win the game next Sunday wouldn't be in TV preaching, but on an island in the sun.
I bet.

Said that, it was interesting to see how experts comment previsions about several social aspects of the Internet. But, to me, it was like watching a pre soccer game show. Everybody says his/her own and that's it.
Please do not consider me the one who wants always to criticize. I don't think I am.
I think a debate on the future of the Internet, especially in certain areas, could be helpful. But not in the way it was done in this report. Maybe it was just they way this report was created that sounds bad to me... with its handful of predictions, this report sounded to me like trying to play darts being blinded. Who knows what you can hit? I really don't know, so I'm really interested in your opinion on the utility of a debate on the future of the Internet.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pew results on the 'Future' of Personal Politics

Of particular interest in the Pew report was 'Part 12, Politics', that indicated the respondents were divided on whether the people would use the internet to filter out opposing points of view. It would be interesting, but nearly impossible, to get data on how people use news sources on the internet. I think most thoughtful people compare multiple sources: contacts, newspapers, radio, internet, tv. How might the internet change this? It is vastly easier for people to access Ha'aretz, Xinhua, or 700Club news sources online than in print, and tv media rarely carry them. But the key, I think, to deliberate filtering behavior is distanciation: the dissolving of some social connections in a way that you can neither completely identify with nor mindlessly despise the other. It feels SAFER for people to access an opposing viewpoint through anonymous surfing than with physical talking and its possible threats. I think access of political information online allows some distance- distance to be braver and click into the opposing camp. Has anyone done this? Do you think that those who wouldn't consider opposing viewpoints in person or in other media ALSO would not consider them online? Or does the anonymity allow experimentation?

Great, something else to worry about!

The prediction in the PEW report that the most respondents agreed with was something I'd never even thought about before -- the possibility of a "devastating attack" on the infrastructure of the Internet itself.

I would not have imagined that such a thing would be possible, since the physical side of the Internet is servers, computers, network connections, and power supplies all over the world. Could a few targeted attacks to major servers cripple the whole system? Or could a clever virus spread across the Internet quickly enough to shut everything down? If these things are possible then I'm sure someone will try, but I would have guessed that the Internet is decentralized enough to be safe. I'll admit I don't know a lot about these things, though.

How do you think people would respond to a massive Internet blackout? When I was an undergrad we occasionally suffered a campus-wide loss of Internet service, due to physical problems with the cables connecting us to the outide world (we were located in a small town in the mountains). This was frustrating and annoying, but mostly because it deprived us of a valued source of entertainment. However, we knew that the problem was local and they'd get everything working again within a couple of days.

In the wider world I don't think there are yet many crucial services that depend on the Internet, so life could continue mostly as usual if there were an Internet blackout. Some people wouldn't have anything to do at work, but no one would die from it. My chief concern would be that people would panic if they knew something had gone wrong but couldn't rely on their usual source of instant, searchable news to find out what had happened. But if TV and radio were unaffected, the Internet blackout would surely be the big story on all channels.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Better Policy Choices?

What caught me in the PEW Center report was the idea that if we accurately predict the future of the Internet's impact on American life, we will have the chance to craft better social policy.

I suppose that's true, though I don't see the likelihood, given the current political climate of tax cuts, social security privatization and Medicade cuts, that the investment some experts call for in the hardware, training and access that many Americans would need to be included in all that's to come will ever happen.

At a time when growing poverty rates and stagnation in job growth mean that millions of Americans go without the basic necessities of daily life, how successful will our advocacy be when we call for broadband for those who first need bread? For those who could use medical care far more than tech support?

I fear not very.


In the reading this week, I was most interested in the survey question “By 2014, 90% of all Americans will go online from home via high-speed networks that are dramatically faster than today’s high-speed networks”. While there was disagreement among the experts as to how or even if this is possible, this seems to be a pretty accurate prediction. While this isn’t directly mentioned, wireless is an increasingly pervasive option for accessing the internet. Here at the university, there are several access sites one can bring their laptop to and easily access the internet. There are several pilot cities around the nation, including Philadelphia, that plan on offering free (eventually fee based) wireless internet access in the near future. What I’m curious about is, with the falling prices of actual computer hardware, will this be a way to bridge the digital divide? This article from Library Journal mentions the plan Philadelphia, among other cities, has proposed: Will government eventually regulate the cost and/or availability of the internet, much like what happened with radio and television when they first became available?