How many librarians in the audience? People from Vermont? Okay then. Slides are at ... list of links is at ...
I put this talk together using only the internet I could get from the library, friends' houses or through my phone. You haven't really enjoyed life til you've tried to access broadbandmap.gov through an iphone [story].
The oft-repeated stats are 22% of Americans live without any internet at home and 35% live without broadband. This has changed a little but not terribly much. August 2010 showed these numbers as 34% and 21%. This is sort of like when Google was saying "hey only .02% of our users lost all their email..." which is different from saying "we lost the email of 30,000 people" 22% of Americans is roughly 68 mil people? And we come to SXSW and it's like these people don't exist. I'm here so that we remember that they exist, amd maybe find some ways to help them.
Last year I talked about what libraries are doing to educate the US's tech illiterate. But I got to thinking: why are so many people offline? And so this last year, as I was writing my book -- Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide -- this was one of the questions that I asked. And I brought some people in who know more about this than I do.
Fiona Morgan is getting her Master of Public Policy at Duke University's Sanford School. Prior to that she was a reporter covering local technology and politics issues in North Carolina. Her column The Monitor in the NC triangle area's The Independent examined local media and technology issues, particularly concerning how legislation affects access.
Justin Grimes is a Ph.D. Candidate at University of Maryland, iSchool, an avowed IT policy wonk and open data/access advocate who thinks a lot about the ethics of online and virtual worlds and what happens when we keep too much "in the cloud" He is currently working as a research assistant at the Information Policy and Access Center where he is helping conduct the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study a multi-year study of technology & connectivity in public libraries. His dissertation (if ever finished) looks at how local municipalities are implementing open government data initiatives.
I'm really happy they're both here to talk about their specialty areas.
[WE WANT INTERNET slide]
I live in a community where the only broadband goes down the main streets. Last year I talked a lot about what we're doing in public libraries, how our technology instruction in a world that is starting to *require* not just broadband but technology understanding. And the situation is reminding me a lot about the Rural Electrification Project. Except no one needed to teach people how to use a light bulb...
The more I teach classes and listen to people's stories in Vermont, it was clear that computers and broadband in libraries were no substitute for computers and broadband at home. We're now living in an age where you can get a decent computer for a few hundred dollars, but sometimes you can't get broadband at home for any amount of money. People are cobbling together all sorts of things but another thing they're doing is moving to places with better access to services. The population in my town, and in many Vermont towns, is dropping. While some people may have found Victory Vermont in 1958 -- a town with no electricity lines -- quaint and charming, most of them would pass it by to live someplace where they could have a lightbulb. I have many friends whose purchase and sale agreement for their houses was conditional on making sure they could get broadband.
So we're here just to briefly talk about what I know and to briefly explain how what you read in the paper -- born with the chip, born digital, all that good stuff -- is only part of the story.
[broadband map slide]
The main thing I have to say, my part, is that the information you get is often wrong. Good librarians are taught to be good evaluators of information. I thought my job was done when the National Broadband Map came out earlier this year. Hey now we know who is online and who is not, right? And we can go target the offline areas until we're all in some cybernetic meadow quietly buzzing. Great!
But then, when I could finally get it to load, I did a reality check on the National Broadband Map and found that though the map looked like where I lived, the information it gave bore no resemblance to the planet I lived on.
So the map is ridiculous, but at some level it's not for end-user me trying to figure out how to get broadband. I actually signed up for broadband last week. I had three options: 768 DSL, 1.5 DSL, 3MB cable. The cable company asked for my social security number and so I went with DSL. I live in the woods so satellite is not an option. My speeds with the iphone are about what you'd expect. I don't know who is getting 50Mbs. Businesses, I assume, and at high costs. In our state the ARRA funding mostly went to "beef up" the existing broadband infrastructure, $116 Million for "broadband targets unserved areas of VT" was what they said. This meant more bandwidth for schools and libraries (hard to complain) but no additional lines in places where there weren't lines already. No last mile money.
And we have to ask, who benefits from this portrayal?
This is a more realistic assessment from recovery.vermont.gov. They have a vested interest in looking podunk and impoverished to get more stimulus money. The light areas are where 0 to 10% of the population have broadband. I know what needs to happen on a local scale to get some of these people online in a hearts and mind sort of way, but let's look at what else needs to be happening in a policy/culture/legislative sort of way.