Digital Divides of the 21st Century

This week’s articles for class center around privacy and net neutrality. Net neutrality, never heard of it. Was is it and why is it so important? Naysayers to Facebook’s Internet.org project say the project “violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy, and innovation.” I thought the project sounded great. Giving those who wouldn’t normally have access to the internet a chance to use it for free. Albeit, limited access, but access all the same. I was on board with it, or am I? After reading “Backlash Against Facebook’s Free Internet Service Grows”, I’m not so sure anymore. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. According to this definition, the Internet.org project definitely violates net neutrality. Facebook argues that this project can “coexist” with net neutrality. They want more people to have access to the internet and isn’t some better than none at all. Protesters say that the goal of the project is to get people using the internet and then encourage them to pay for a data plan to access the full internet. However, many will not be able to afford a data plan so they’ll be stuck on the second tier, and this could create a digital divide. Is there not already a digital divide when some have internet and others don’t? On this topic I think I agree that some is better than none. I don’t agree with the second tier’s security and privacy being compromised as it is using Internet.org. I believe that Josh Levy’s solution to provide free access to the full Internet while implementing low data caps is an excellent solution to maintain net neutrality.

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Photo Credit: Apple

If Internet.org continues as is, it will be another case of the poor or not so well off having fewer digital privacy rights. This is the argument of Cortney-Harding in the article “The New Digital Divide.” The less well off probably can’t afford an Apple phone or desktop, which offer high security. Less expensive phones and desktops use less secure connections when accessing the Internet. Security can be further compromised using the wi-fi at public places. Many poor people also are subjected to invasive questions and are required to share much more information than middle class folk in order to collect their benefits from the government. The poor may lack resources to stand up to authority figures if their privacy has been compromised and fear police violence if they don’t reveal private information. The Internet held promise of a new digital world where everyone would be able to access the same information. However, this world is still laden with the problems of the old world, where the color of your skin and how much money you make decides what accessing that information will cost you. So, yet again, the poor are living in a very different digital world than the middle class.

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Photo Credit: myonlineestateagent via Compfight cc

A digital divide of a different kind could have devastating effects for education. The Federal Communications Commission’s new policies could see an end to net neutrality. It could have detrimental effects for any agency or person that’s already working with a limited budget, namely education. At present, there are rules preventing Internet service providers from showing any preferential treatment. That means that all sites on the web are accessible to anyone, no matter what you’re searching for. The new rules will allow service providers to charge content providers for better access for their users essentially creating a tiered internet. Most schools cannot afford to pay for better access. Schools, teachers, and students rely heavily on the internet to supplement instruction and make sure students are well versed in the technology of this information age. A loss of net neutrality would impact free and open source web tools, open source textbook adoption, wikis and collaboration sites, and school and university libraries’ access to hard-to-find information. These rules could create a digital divide among students. A faster web for some isn’t an equal web for all, and the rules that favor Internet service providers jeopardize the web’s ability to serve as a platform for free speech and innovation.” These new policies will most definitely negatively affect teachers, students and education as a whole.

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