Impact of telecommunication policy on the color of the digital divide


Thanks to Bernadine Joselyn for passing on an interesting article in ColorLines that takes a hindsight look at telecommunications policy in light of the demographics of the digital divide. It goes as far back as the Carterfone decision (which forced AT&T to open up its network to non-AT&T phones).

The article indicates that policies partnered with private industry are creating two Internets: the wireless Internet of for low-income (especially African American and Latino) citizens and wired Internet for those with higher incomes. Those on the wireless Internet are restricted in what they can do online.

Here are pieces to the puzzle that seem to relate more directly to pure economics.

  1. Handhelds are cheaper than laptops. My mom is thinking about a computer or a tablet or a smartphone. But unlike many people in her shoes cost is *a* factor – not *the* factor.
  2. Wireless contracts are cheaper than wired. This is true on a month-to-month basis but even more true when you consider a potentially transient consumer and startup fees after each move.
  3. The article includes research results that indicate that African American and Latino consumers are much more likely to rely on smartphones for Internet access than their white counterparts.

Here are some pieces that are technical:

  1. Fiber is faster than wireless.
  2. Cable is faster than most wireless.

Here are some pieces that seem to relate to policy:

  1. The Net Neutrality bill that passed will maintain a level of openness for wired Internet.
  2. The Net Neutrality bill that passed allows wireless provides to create data packages that not only cap speeds/data transfer but also can promote some information and prohibit some information. The example given in the article is Verizon filtering out (refusing to deliver) all text messages containing specific words.
  3. The National Broadband Plan promotes 100 Mbps for 100 million homes and only 4 Mbps for the rest.

I definitely suggest reading the original article for a more passionate interpretation. I would be very interested in hearing “the other side” of the story.