I have long argued that we, as a society, will experience a deep and wide technological divide and at the root of it is one thing – access to the Internet. Much of the time I have talked about this it has been with my American counterparts and in relation to the US. However such a problem isn’t just confined to the United States as my own country, Canada, will suffer from the same problem only I believe it will be a much bigger.
The primary reason is that as the second largest country in the world with much of our population centered really in three metropolitan areas. As a result there is no incentive for broadband providers to provide top notch reasonably priced services to the majority of the sparsely populated areas.
As Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish pointed out in a recent Globe and Mail post
As urban Canada races to build high-speed broadband networks to keep up with business and consumer demand for efficient communications, outlying regions are being left behind with slow, unreliable or costly connections.
This growing digital divide makes rural economic prosperity increasingly elusive. Canadians living in rural areas already have incomes well below their urban counterparts (14 per cent lower than the national average, according to a recent study that used earlier census data), and the earnings gap exists in every province. In areas that have an abundance of oil, potash or other key commodities demanded by the world’s economic powers, fast Internet connections might not be so important, but for the rest, they’re crucial to pulling in new employers. Communities that cannot plug into the high-speed digital economy cannot attract new businesses that rely on basic services such as electronic invoicing, Internet conferencing and large digital file transfers.
I understand that there is a great expense involved in expanding broadband connectivity and doubly so the further out one goes from densely populated areas. Unfortunately this connectivity is becoming more of a necessity rather than a luxury which means those that don’t have equal access to the Web at a price that the median income of the area in question can afford .. well they are going to find themselves increasingly marginalized.
You can buy the best equipment around but if you can’t afford to connect to the Web; or even have a reliable broadband connection, then you are just a very expensive island cut off from the rest of the world.
The digital divide is real and it is growing. the digital divide isn’t just something that is happening in other less advantaged countries. It happening here at home as well.