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Internet-Poor With You Always

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- 11 December 1999 - Tip Jar

Politicians.

Always looking for a sound bite.

In this case, it's President Clinton announcing a tour of "depressed areas left out of the explosion of internet access." Not only will Clinton tour areas that are internet-poor, he will also sign an executive memorandum "to ensure [that] closing the digital divide will be a vital goal of the federal government."

After all, there is a growing divide between whites and nonwhites, urban and rural, rich and poor among those connected to the internet.

Come to think of it, maybe Clinton and his cronies will realize it boils down to economics more than skin color or place of residence. The poor have less disposable income; therefore they are less likely to own computers, let alone have internet access.

If he wants to find the internet deprived, there are Amish and Mennonite communities that shun electricity. I'll bet they have among the lowest level of internet access in the nation. And then there are the homeless, who have nowhere to hang their modems.

Universal internet access is like universal phone access. Universal phone access doesn't do you much good if you can't afford a phone, let alone the monthly access fees. Same goes for internet access: unless you have a computer and can afford monthly connect fees, it doesn't mean much.

By analogy, back in the 1970s Christian recording artist Keith Green realized that the cost of records kept some people from owning them. His concerts were always free, since he viewed them as a ministry. He decided to offers his albums for free as well - to which the cynical responded, "Are you going to give them record players, too?"

Or, in this case, is Big Government going to step in and buy the internet-poor computers and provide Internet Stamps for those who can't afford monthly access fees? Or maybe the federal government will step in and create a national ISP to provide free service to the internet disenfranchised.

I have a suggestion: call it FreeHandout.gov.

After all, 90% households with incomes under $20,000 per year don't have internet access, according to a Department of Commerce study released in July. We need to help them out with their cable, er phone, I mean ISP bills. It's a fundamental right.

I wonder what percentage of those same households have computers, cable TV, telephones. Some of these people can't even pay their utility bills, already rely on the government to subsidize their groceries - and now we are expected to help them get on the internet?

Sorry, Bill, no matter how you try to spin it, this is nonsense. To paraphrase one whose birthday we celebrate this month, the internet-poor will be with you always.

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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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