Ars Technica posted an article today entitled “The poor don’t care about broadband? Of course they do.” The article references a recent study published by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). The study partially refutes some findings made in earlier studies by the the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, which suggested that two thirds of those Americans that’s don’t have broadband now don’t want it, and about a third of US residents never use the Internet.
These kind of studies are always skewed in some way, based on sampling methods, size, question order, use of “push poll” methods, and the way questions are phrased. Even without looking at any of these studies, it’s easy to guess that recent unemployment rate increases have probably created poverty rate increases as well. Both increases mean that better access to online tools for education, job searches, online résumé updates, and job applications are even more important now than ever. Of all these studies, the SSRC study seems to go into the most depth over whether low-income populations understand how (lack of) access to the Internet affects their lives. Interviewees told the SSRC that high speed Internet access is a basic necessity, the same way electricity has become a basic necessity to our modern lifestyle.
The analogy between electricity and Internet access is interesting. It shows that many people understand that the Internet is basic to modern national infrastructure, in the same way our electrical lines and roads are. When any of these basic services are unavailable or too costly, we tend to share some of the blame between the responsible government agencies and local providers. It seems strange then, that so many are so willing to let Internet provider incumbents set the terms of access, without more redress through calls for government action. Too few people seem to remember that the telephone and cable companies had little to do with the initial creation of the Internet, and it was government and public institutions that started the process. Government and public University institutions continue to drive open uses of the Internet further, while incumbent access providers try to hold it back. Maybe giving people a chance to own their own “driveways” onto the Internet would change how people address the Internet’s importance politically.