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Technology Access Discriminates

Accessibility is not equal for everyone. The infrastructure needs to be fixed.

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I try not to get on a soap box in my blogs, but I hope you will allow me to express a concern that I see building and the projection of an unintended outcome. I am talking about who does and does not have access to technology. Over time, this divide can cause a further division based on geography, income level, or some other factor. The ramifications of it are not realized until it is too late. That is when division and resentment start.

The industry is getting excited about 5G these days. It will provide more bandwidth, allow new kinds of services to be offered, allow connected cars, enable the IoT in ways never before imagined. That is, if you ever get 5G. The development of 5G is expensive, as is the deployment. It doesn’t get deployed unless there is a business model that allows for a payback of the original investment, plus a decent profit for someone. But payback is dependent on population density.

The people developing this technology, and the companies that deploy it, are located in high population density areas. Interestingly, one of the things COVID has taught many people is they can effectively work remotely, and many have a desire to continue doing that. That means they gain a freedom they never had before – they can be located anywhere they want. We have seen a migration of people out of cities like Portland and into the suburbs, and some want to move from the suburbs even further out into rural areas. But can they?

Let me add my own personal aspect to this story. Five years ago, I decided that I could work from anywhere and chose to move to a delightful small community on the Oregon coast. Now my days are filled with the sights and sound of the Pacific Ocean. What I did not fully realize at the time is how technologically underserved the area is. To people coming to visit, this is quaint and charming, but only if they can get back to their technological world fairly quickly.

I got lucky in that the house I bought was serviced by a decent speed Internet connection and they hooked me up within days. That story is not typical. Many people here, and in a lot of rural communities, still use antiquated DSL. Even worse, a new neighbor who wanted to add Internet service was told that the network was at capacity and couldn’t even give them phone service. No worries, there is wireless. Nope. The area doesn’t even have reliable 2G, let alone 5G, and many areas are complete dead spots. We found that out the day we moved in and quickly had a landline installed.

Why is this important, apart from limiting where people can work? It means we get frustrated by companies that don’t consider people who lack all of the latest technological capabilities. Take a very simple one, something you probably do once a week or so without even thinking about – double factor authentication. Many companies give you only one option for this – via cell phone. Given that we are on the very edge of any kind of signal, we have to go outside, wave the phone around, and see if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Sometimes the text will come, although it may take minutes, or hours, or sometimes even days before enough of a puff reaches us. By then, the code has expired.

As time goes on, these little problems will get larger and will impact people in different ways. For example, there is an area of the highway that is an accident spot. Why? It is when people get cell coverage and start getting the pings from all of the texts they missed and become distracted.

I am not asking to be able to stream HD video to my cell phone. I don’t even think that is a good use of technology. But if corporations decide that people must be able to do two-factor authentication using a cell phone, then everyone must be guaranteed that level of service. If you need an Internet connection to get a COVID vaccination appointment, then everyone needs to have access to an Internet connection. We cannot allow parts of the country, or the globe, to get left behind on the other side of the digital divide.

President Biden is considering a large infrastructure measure, and this should not just be about roads and bridges – it needs to create the technological bridge to the underserved and potentially the people who will become left behind and disadvantaged. It requires either a new business model, or an incentive to start developing technology that does not depend on density in the same way that it does today. Corporations have had long enough to solve this problem, and they have shown themselves to be either incapable or unwilling. It is time for government to step in and provide a solution.

Maybe rural areas need to be considered like orphan drugs, with incentives provided for companies to solve these problems. But while everything is based on corporate profit, these issues will not be addressed.



3 comments

Daniel Payne says:

The great digital divide exists around the globe, with those that have access and those that are without it. People in South Korea are at the forefront of fast, cheap Internet access, which makes the USA look like a back-water, has been, metaphorically speaking. I cannot hold a constant phone call while driving Hwy 26 from Portland to the coast, because of the spotty cell coverage, and it’s been that way since the 1980s. City dwellers in rich countries are at a distinct advantage, over everyone else. Loon may have some technology to bridge the gap, and bring WiFi and Cell phone coverage to more regions around the globe, https://loon.com/

S Kang says:

At least in the author’s case, a satellite internet connection would solve the problem. The lower cost of living in the rural areas of the US should be sufficient to allow for the higher cost of the internet connection among other things. Seems like a pretty good trade off to enjoy living among the trees on the scenic Oregon coast.

I’m pretty sure that at the right price, businesses would be happy to create the infrastructure and provide services in low population density areas. There is no reason to expect that these services would be provided at the same price as in the city where the cost can be spread among many more people. Rural residents might want to vote for town and county government taxes to support a guaranteed customer base for businesses to have incentive to provide those services. These are definitely better options than having the government setup and run these systems. Next thing you know they will be tapping or blocking your service.

Reiner Franke says:

In the perspective of getting measures agains global warming goverment decision for infrastructure are critical. The funding is less rewarding for the rurals and paying a higher fee for moving electrons instead of personal mass with 20x attachment is accepable. The dynamic of the change must be supported by the goverment. In germany license owner must provide coverage. That lessen the chicken, egg issue.
I think of all the copper less countries in dense areas where the 4G is used both for internet and phone and it is fully utilized over the day. The rate simply adapt to the daily community usage. The adaption there is 100% and could easy gain 10x over the next decade. Only to point out a different viewpoint.
By the way the title triggered a different image. I thought about tech access in terms of work involvement. I see that most international tec companies limit the local grow in low labor countries to be human selection and low labor outsource centers.

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