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Universal Internet Access

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- 1999.12.13 - Tip Jar

I've been taken to task from several fronts for my article Internet-Poor With You Always. And I'm glad to see it. Not only does it mean somebody is reading my musings, but they're even thinking about the ideas in them.

Public Library Access

Don Sakers of the Anne Arundel County Public Library (MD) wrote:

You may not be aware of the services that public libraries provide. With little Federal assistance beyond e-rate discounts, public libraries across the nation are providing free Internet access to anyone who walks through the door.

Here in Maryland, for example, the State government has provided funds to put at least one Internet-connected PC in every public library branch in the State. Many county library systems have gone further - at my branch (Severna Park branch of Anne Arundel County Public Library) we have 17 public PCs with Internet access. We're open 12 hours a day M-Th, 8 hours on F-Sat, and 4 hours on Sundays. Our smaller branches have between 7 and 13 public PCs with Internet access.

Most public libraries nowadays consider providing Internet access as a fundamental part of our public mandate to provide free access to information . . . just as we provide books, magazines, newspapers, and myriad other sources.

So you see, it is possible to provide Internet access to the poor, without buying everyone a computer.

Thanks for reminding me and my readers about this invaluable service. Here in Michigan it's been all over the news - should libraries provide unfiltered access to all? should minors be protected from online porn and other unsuitable matter? if so, how?

I wish every public library offered internet access, whether filtered or not. It's the equivalent of the pay phone down the street or at the mall.

But that's precisely what Clinton wanted to get past, forcing the "internet poor" to rely on public access. He wants it in their homes, as this paragraph from the Reuters article makes clear:

"We must connect all of our citizens to the Internet, not just in schools and libraries, but in homes, small businesses and community centers, and we must help all Americans gain the skills they need to make the most of the connection," Clinton said in the White House Rose Garden.

Universal Phone Access

John Farr wrote Lack of Internet Access Not Always a Matter of Economics!, which tell a depressing tale about U.S. West, the "Baby Bell" serving New Mexico, among other states. The matter there isn't even internet access - U.S. West is failing to provide federally mandated and state ordered phone lines to rural residents. "Some Taos County residents have been waiting for over 8 years for phone service!"

Eight years! I smell a real opportunity for the cell phone industry and satellite internet access, but the failure of a regulated monopoly to provide mandated services is appalling.

Maybe the federal government should be a bit more concerned about the universal phone access they promised decades ago, then worry about internet connectivity once the phone companies fulfill their service obligations.

I remember when my folks moved into a new subdivision in St. Catharines, Ontario, back in 1975. Since we were the first residents, Bell Canada promised it would be months before they were able to provide service. Months!

Monopolies can be callous, that's for sure. My folks finally got some action by pointing out that there was no telephone available for several blocks and, should they need emergency services, they would hold Bell Canada liable.

That got their attention. We had service within weeks, not months.

Still, the phone company (as least here in the U.S.) has a legal obligation to provide service to all residents who desire it.

Conclusion

Really, I'm all for universal internet access. It means more traffic for Low End Mac. I'm also for public utilities meeting their legal obligations.

What I'm against is the government stepping in with some sort of mandate. Although the Internet itself is 30 years old, the web only entered the public consciousness about 4-5 years ago.

Give it time. Over the next five years, I suspect internet access will be as prevalent as electrical wiring and phone access in the United States - even without an executive order.

Further Reading

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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