City wide Wi-Fi: Hurt or Help the Digital Divide?

As we begin looking at ICT4D, the class has started thinking critically about information, knowledge, and technology and who it is benefiting.  Today, while learning about the digital divide, we discussed barriers to access where we considered things such as economical, geographical, educational, and generational gaps.  We also looked at information societies and knowledge societies, and what they mean for ICT4D.

A large barrier in the digital divide is obviously access, especially for the poor.  Accessing the Internet requires paying for both access as well as a device to connect to the world wide web.  As smartphones and computers become less expensive and more prevalent, this reduces the cost of the device, but does not guarantee Internet access.

This conversation reminding me of an article I read last year, and I decided to look into it further.

The municipality of Tel Aviv, Israel is looking towards a solution for this barrier by offering free, public Wi-Fi across the city.  A travel website advertised the 80 free wi-fi hotspots that can be accessed on any “computer, tablet, or smartphone.”  The speed is estimated to be 5 megabytes and will block any major downloading and file sharing as well as pornography and gambling websites.  The municipality website confirms the project with an estimated $1.6 million USD budget.

City council member Alon Solar (Rov Hair) initiated the project and states that this is only the “first step toward a more advanced city government, which is adapting itself to the technological world.” (Haaretz, 2011)

This initiative is an interesting example in that it both reduces and widens the digital divide.  By offering a free way to access the Internet, public Wi-Fi networks offer individuals who may have no or limited internet a constant connection – thereby narrowing the gap.  However, by only creating free access points in urban areas, this further isolates those living in rural settings.  Additionally, the city is only creating Wi-Fi hotspots, meaning that only individuals with the right devices can take advantage.

City-wide wireless may prove to be an upcoming and exciting trend with potential to help close the digital divide, but precautions should also be taken to ensure that does not further isolate individuals or communities.

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2 responses to “City wide Wi-Fi: Hurt or Help the Digital Divide?

  • laurenparmley

    To add on to your explanation, the idea of policy comes into play here. Although they’re getting rid of some of the barriers to access by providing this free wifi, the policy of blocking and censorship of pornography and gambling websites contributes to another barrier to access (not that I’m against the censorship). It’s kindof an interesting parallel.

  • sarahswig

    While I understand the arguments you laid out arguing that city wide WiFi could potentially broaden the Digital Divide, I think it is more likely that it narrows the gap. Some families or individuals may own computers or smart-phones, but not want to pay more for WiFi at home. If WiFi could truly be implemented across an entire city, that would lead to more equality and accessibility, thereby reducing any barriers to access.

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