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.