Mind The (Internet) Gap - InformationWeek

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2/15/2006
07:23 PM
Patricia Keefe
Patricia Keefe
Commentary
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Mind The (Internet) Gap

Looks like the digital divide is not only not going to get any smaller, it's likely to expand in scope. Regardless of how it shakes it, I fear the latest great American Internet debate will result in a widening of the gap between the digital haves and have nots - those who can afford basic digital access and tools and tho

Looks like the digital divide is not only not going to get any smaller, it's likely to expand in scope.

Regardless of how it shakes it, I fear the latest great American Internet debate will result in a widening of the gap between the digital haves and have nots - those who can afford basic digital access and tools and those who can not. Depending on from which end we end up eating higher network costs, we could also be faced with an emerging subcatgory among the former, wherein those who have the most money get the best service and the best access.If you're thinking well, that's the American way - hold on. Creating classes of Internet users is a very bad idea. Why? Because the Internet is essentially a next-generation public utility, and like any utility, access to that service should be equally available to anyone who can afford to purchase it. And that purchase price should neither be prohibitive nor create favored classes. Now that's "Internet neutrality!"

The debate heating up in Washington is about whether cable provider and telephone companies can charge Internet businesses for their heavier use of high-speed networks. All these businesses are jumping into each other's game, or trying to, and looking for any advantage they can get.

The problem for the network providers is that as Google, Yahoo and other Internet service providers expand their offerings, they are sucking up more bandwidth. Google and friends think everyone - meaning companies - should have the same access to the network, regardless of how much they are using or burdening it. Hence the new buzz phrase being bandied about in this debate, and which I mentioned earlier - "Internet Neutrality."

Customers will end up paying the bill - no matter who wins, according to Internet doyen and now Google employee Vinton Cerf. He, of course, thinks the cable and phone companies should go after business and consumer customers for the network access cost he does not think multi-gazillion dollar companies like Google should have to pay or have to pass onto their subscribers.

I can see those companies paying more because they use more, but Cerf is right -we're the ones who will end up paying the tab. What concerns me is that unless some effort is made to keep the tab down, then ever more people might find the cost of getting online simply too expensive. And that's a bad idea, especially coming as it does at a time when Internet access is becoming essential to running our every day lives.

Think about it. More and more of our lives are being conducted online, and I mean solely online. And you have no choice about it. Kids without computers and Internet access will be at an ever worsening disadvantage. But adults will too. The spill over effect is substantial. Travel tickets, job applications, health records, banking, bill paying, purchasing, support for various products and services - what isn't already solely online is going there, soon.

In the same way that most of us can afford to flip a switch to get the same access to the same dose of electricity, we have to make sure that the same holds true for the Internet. You can tell us what you think by leaving a response to this blog entry.

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