Finally we have a president who understands and uses technology. I shuddered at the thought of a McCain presidency, picturing two chairs behind the big desk in the oval office–one for John and one for Cindy, who handles the online needs of her technophobe husband.
A couple of years ago I moved back East from Montana, where I had cable/digital everything for $99 a month. In my new home, I now spend the same amount for limited satellite internet. In Massachusetts, home to the Massachusetts Institute of TECHNOLOGY (MIT), not to mention a bunch of other good schools, I couldn’t and still can’t believe that broadband is not available to all.
I am in Franklin County in the western part of the state that the powers that be in Boston tend to forget exists. Last month Executive Director Andre M. Porter of the Massachusetts Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship visited this area and met with a local group. One of the issues discussed was the fact that beginning in 2009, Massachusetts businesses are required to submit their sales tax information online, a cost-saving measure for the state. The problem is that few businesses in the area are “connected.” A very few have DSL, more have dial-up, but many have no computer at all. They are grocers, mechanics, loggers and others who support a modest but sustainable economy. Porter, who had no idea, in spite of the fact that broadband crusaders have been raising the warning flags for some time, plans an electronic newsletter, but a local accountant told him that just won’t work here. There is also a lack of cell service in the Hilltowns, but that’s another issue.
Area towns are small, and most libraries have one computer for public use. Naturally there is high demand, and since these libraries are typically open just ten or fifteen hours a week, a line often forms before the librarian puts the key in the lock on the three days when it is. I don’t see children using the computers, but usually adults with no other access. What about the kids? Isn’t this an education issue as well as a communication issue? Why are rural children any less entitled to spend hours on YouTube than those in Boston or Springfield?
I work under contract for a large educational publisher. I write text for their reference books and also the code that enables what I write to fall into online databases that most of the children in my area can’t even access. There are kids in Hong Kong who can read online what I and others write, but the families down the street cannot. That means that they can’t go to the sites of the great newspapers, magazines, libraries and museums. They can’t download the words of Shakespeare or Jefferson or Obama. Online courses aren’t available to them; hell online college catalogs aren’t available to them. And like the state’s new effort to save paper, more and more information will be accessible only online. Denying information is like denying food. A child will become stunted without it.
The people here are smart and industrious. They are the kind of folks who do grow small businesses, rely on their own skills and resources to get ahead, and save when they do. They are the people government tells us can rebuild this country, and yet, what does government do to help them? About as much as it does for the small farmer, an occupation of many who live here. With a little help from their friends — that would be the state and federal governments — they could expand the economy in Western Massachusetts and in all the other little towns and hamlets across the country that don’t have broadband access. A small business without e-mail or the ability to create a Web site doesn’t have the resources to compete in this country, let alone the world.
President Obama has stated that he intends to bring broadband to every child. Children do need access, as do small businesses and entrepreneurs who, along with their families, including those children, are economically disadvantaged because they must function without it.