This week I have learned a few new terms: digital divide, net neutrality, electronic frontier and communications justice, to name a few. What’s it all about? It’s about Internet access; fast and cheap access for everyone- everywhere.
I wonder what kind of bubble I’ve been living in that I am so poorly informed about this issue? Since considering this topic for my Gospel and Global Media Culture course just this week, I’ve stumbled upon Internet discussions about this dating back to 2005.
And why does this issue matter? Isn’t the Internet a privilege? After all, it’s not like it’s an every day necessity, right?
Not true. The Internet is used for education- from kindergarten through doctoral studies. The Internet is used for work; even the process of applying for a job is often Internet-based. The Internet is used for commerce; promotion, name recognition and sales. The Internet connects us with our friends and families on social sites such as Facebook or our colleagues on LinkedIn. In terms of research, government and politics, the Internet connects the world in powerful ways. In short, it is an essential element to our daily lives.
However, there are a number of factors that come into play when considering an individual’s actual access to the Internet. Obviously, most of us will be able to identify income as a barrier, since, as Americans, we know that Internet access doesn’t come cheap. Also, if you, like me, live in a rural area, there are issues with even getting the cables or fiber optic systems to your location. I was surprised to learn that a major roadblock to cheap and fast Internet service in the United States is related to the monopolies that the service providers have, which in fact are causing our nation to lag behind other countries of the world in Internet access for the general public. Check out this interview by Bill Moyers with Susan Crawford for more information.
In that video, Susan Crawford (author of Captive Audience) states that “having a communication system that knits the country together is not just about economic growth, it’s about the social fabric of the country”. In short, she indicates that Internet access connects us to one another from personal, individual relationships all the way through to our collective identity as a nation.
And thus, as something basic to our daily lives, there are advocacy movements rallying to consider cheap and fast Internet access as a common utility.
Other organizations are springing up to provide access to communities who cannot afford Internet services.
Imagine your life without this:
Or this: (It’s a telephone, BTW)
Running water, indoor plumbing, electricity and telephone services were once imagined to be luxuries of the privileged few. That is no longer the case. Internet access may soon join the ranks of basic utilities, but it may require advocacy and policy change for that to occur, at least in the United States.
Does “communications justice” matter for the Church? It should. If those with access to the Internet can further themselves, earn more, achieve more, etc. than those without it, then that means there is inequality. And the church should always stand for justice and equality for all. The National Black Church Initiative is taking a stand to stop the digital divide and the first link in my post cites the efforts of the United Methodist Church on this issue. See one of my classmate’s insightful discussion of this topic in relationship to ELCA (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) policy and stance.