I'll bet a lot of lower-income people have big TVs and cable, but no 
computer or broadband.  A computer that is adequate for broadband net access 
can bought new for little and used for almost nothing.  The primary computer 
I use is an old Pentium 3 that has a value of maybe $50.  And if need be, 
cable TV could be sacrificed for cable broadband.  So no doubt choice is a 
big factor here.

But, of course, much more needs to be done toward the provision of 
technology education and low-cost broadband.  And more public access to 
computers on the internet as alternatives to libraries and schools and 
Starbucks.  For example, when I visited Tucson three yy ago, I was pleased 
to find the Univ. of AZ computer center to be open long hours and to have 
free public access with no time limit.  Every computer even had a CD burner 
available for downloads.

----Original Message Follows----
From: Sam Anderson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List              
<[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 08:38:17 -0400

Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 23, 2007; C01

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Less than a mile and a half from the Citadel, the  site 
of the Democratic presidential debate tonight, sits Cooper River  Courts, a 
public housing project. Forget the Web. Never mind YouTube,  the debate's 
co-sponsor. Here, owning a computer and getting on the  Internet (through 
DSL or cable or Wi-Fi) is a luxury.

"I am low-income and computers are not low-income," says Marcella  Morris, 
sitting on the front step of her apartment building on a  sweltering day 
last week.

The unemployed 45-year-old adds: "I know how to use a computer. I  just 
can't afford one right now."

There exists "two Americas," as John Edwards, South Carolina's own  son, 
likes to say: an America for the rich and an America for the  poor. But what 
Edwards and the rest of the presidential field have  yet to adequately 
address are the two Americas online: one that's  connected to high-speed 
Internet -- socializing, paying bills,  uploading debate questions to 
presidential candidates on YouTube --  and one that's not. This is the 
digital divide, now more than a  decade old, a rarely discussed schism in 
which the unconnected are  second-class citizens. In some parts of this 
so-called Internet  ghetto, the screech of a telephone modem dialing up to 
get online is  not uncommon. And with dial-up, YouTube is impossible to use.

Between 40 to 45 percent of Charlestonians, city officials here  estimate, 
subscribe to high-speed Internet. That figure is nearly in  line with the 
national average, according to the nonpartisan group  Free Press. And though 
a study released last month by the Pew  Internet & American Life Project 
found that broadband use among  African American adults increased from 14 
percent in 2005 to 40  percent this year, blacks continue to lag behind 
whites and English- speaking Latinos. In fact, a great number of American 
households ,  especially in rural areas and poorer parts of cities such as  
Charleston, are without broadband.

And in a presidential election that's being fought as much online as  off it 
-- all campaigns employ Web strategies -- some say the  candidates have 
generally ignored the issue.

"I would argue that the digital divide is worse than it was 10 years  ago. 
Back then everyone -- schools, businesses -- was trying to get  online. 
These days every single Fortune 500 company has its  employees, its 
customers and its suppliers connected 24 hours a day,  seven days a week. In 
the meantime, while our students have online  access at school, many of them 
don't have it at home," says Andrew  Rasiej, a member of a panel studying 
universal Internet access in New  York, and co-founder of TechPresident, a 
nonpartisan blog that tracks  the online campaign.

"Our presidential candidates may all have BlackBerrys, but they have  no 
vision when it comes to bringing all our citizens to the 21st  century. If 
you go to look at the presidential candidate Web sites,  the word 'Internet' 
practically doesn't exist. Breaking the digital  divide has not been 
recognized as a critical issue," Rasiej continues.

Two months ago, TechPresident challenged the candidates to adopt  specific 
policies to get everyone online. "Declare the Internet a  public good in the 
same way we think of water, electricity,  highways," reads a policy 
statement. "Commit to providing affordable  high-speed wireless Internet 
access nationwide," reads another. So  far most of the candidates have not 
adopted any of it, Rasiej says.

"At one level, the YouTube debate shows that the Web has really  become a 
centerpiece of American political culture," adds Lee Rainie,  director of 
Pew Internet. "At another level, it also shows that the  debate is not for 
everybody. It's certainly not available to all  Americans."

That is especially true at Cooper River Courts, where Tiara Reid, 14,  in 
her jeans shorts and pink striped top, runs up and down the  complex asking 
friends if anyone wants to go the library. Finally her  mom, Jossie, who 
works at a deli, drives her and a neighbor's  daughter. With school out and 
without Internet access at home, the  library is the only place where she 
can go on the Web -- for a  maximum of two hours a day. Says Tiara: "It's 10 
minutes to get to  the library if someone drives you. It's 15 minutes if you 
take the 30  bus. It's about 30 minutes if you walk." On the library's 
second  floor, she folds herself up on a chair and updates her MySpace  
profile, sends e-mails on her Yahoo! account and, if there's time,  surfs

Across from the Reids' apartment stands LaToya Ferguson, holding her  
grandson Marquis. She's one of the few residents here to have  Internet 
access at home. It's a sense of pride for her. "You're  falling behind if 
you're not online, now that's the truth," says  Ferguson, a nail technician 
in her 30s.

Nearby Marcella Morris runs after her son Donny, who's nearly 2.  Morris 
says she relies on "the three F's" -- food stamps, family and  friends -- to 
provide for Donny and her 7-year-old daughter, Jordan.  Money's tight. She 
has a phone, subscribes to cable, but that's it.  No cellphone, no car, no 
computer. At 3 in the morning, when an  infomercial about the Web-based 
Specialty Merchandise Corp.comes on  TV, she dreams of owning a business, 
she says.

A few weeks ago, she signed up for a computer program at Trident  Literacy 
Association, a 10-minute walk from her apartment. At the end  of the 10-week 
program, she will receive a refurbished computer, free.

"Never too late to start, right?" Morris says. "But after I get the  
computer I have to worry about the Internet."

It's a familiar story around the country, even in places as Internet- savvy 
as San Francisco, Chicago and the District. Who can get online?  Who can't? 
And what can be done about it?

Charlestonians pay as little as $20 or as much as $99 (which covers  phone, 
cable and the Internet) a month to get online, depending on  the package. 
There are a few free Wi-Fi "hot spots" in town, such as  the Cereality cafe 
on King Street, where a cappuccino costs $2.99.

Nearly two years ago, officials vowed to spread Internet access  across the 
city. An initiative called the Charleston Digital Corridor  selected a 
proposal to build a citywide Wi-Fi grid. It was meant to  give everybody 
free Wi-Fi -- and the city didn't even have to pay for  it. As in other 
municipalities that are developing public Wi-Fi  projects, now numbering 
around 400, the goal is twofold: to empower  small businesses and to plug 
poorer neighborhoods such as Cooper  River Courts into the online world.

But like other cities, including San Francisco, Charleston has  struggled 
with its Wi-Fi project. The city originally said the  service would be up 
and running at the end of 2005. It was delayed.  Twice. When it finally was 
launched last spring, the Wi-Fi reached  only about 30 to 40 percent of its 
intended coverage.

And the Charlestonians tapping into the free Wi-Fi network --  sometimes 
more than 200 surfers a day -- were largely the ones who  could already 
afford to pay for it.

Now the citywide Wi-Fi project is in limbo. But Ernest Andrade, head  of the 
Digital Corridor, is optimistic: "We're evaluating right now  and I know 
that we'll bring Wi-Fi access to the rest of this city,"  he pledges. Morris 
sounds upbeat, too. She plans on sticking with her  10-week computer course. 
"Not having the Internet in this day and  time makes me feel disconnected 
from a whole other world. Things I  could see, things I could hear, things I 
could do.

"I could take my kids to other places on the Internet," says Morris  as 
Donny naps on her lap. "Sometimes I feel shortchanged. Not  envious, but 

She just turned 45 three days ago. By her 46th birthday, she hopes to  own a 
computer -- and be online.

s. e. anderson (author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners" -  Writers + 
Readers) +

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