It used to be that the phrase “Digital Divide” described the gap between those who had access to a computer and the internet and those that didn’t. That has changed; many more people have access to computers than before, and especially in those communities where there was a deficit there is now access.
There is still a divide, however. This divide is in the availability of broadband access to the internet. What’s interesting is that many people – and most disturbingly, the people who are the decision-makers – don’t understand that this is happening. I had a conversation with a state legislator a few months ago and mentioned that many rural areas of Minnesota still don’t have access to broadband. He was truly astonished.
In the last few years many major metropolitan areas have instituted wireless access throughout their cities. Their rural cousins haven’t been as lucky.
A tech guy recently decided to purchase a house in a rural area to escape the Big City and was surprised at what he found:
I recently acquired an old farm house in rural southwestern Wisconsin. I’ve always wanted a place out in the country. With the real estate market taking a hit I figured this was a good time to buy. Time will tell on the financial return, but the peacefulness return is already paying off.
However, it’s not all about relaxation — I do want to work from there from time to time. Foolishly I assumed that broadband was just about everywhere now, but it’s not. If you’re a mile off the highway, or not in a town of thousands, you may be stuck in the 90s.
The punchline is that at the moment, he’s stuck with dial-up. Not optimum, to say the least.
This is where we come in, of course. Legislators assume that as more and more of our patrons purchase computers, fewer of them come in to the library to use ours. While that might be true in major metropolitan areas (though I doubt it) in rural areas, many of our patrons simply don’t have access to the faster speed that allows them to fill out long job applications online, search for jobs, send emails, work with photos, etc.
Our libraries are busier than ever. I don’t have to tell you that, of course. But we do need to tell those with the power and the purse strings. Especially if you live in a state that has one or two major metropolitan areas and then a lot of small towns, it is imperative to talk to your legislators about broadband access for rural areas and to remind them that their public libraries are the only access option for their constituents.