The Only Road Through Town
I was surprised and gladdened by the Washington Post’s story on the digital divide Saturday – One Step Off the Superhighway by Cecelia Kang. Whereas serious weight has been given to the Pew Study that found 2/3 of those without broadband don’t want it, few writers express an understanding that those that “don’t want it” haven’t come to understand that “The Internet is becoming as important as electricity and gas.” Whether you’re in an urban area and don’t have access due to cost or a rural area where you’re fortunate to have one provider, let along competition, broadband is becoming a necessity.
Things increasingly going online:
DMV Access & paying parking tickets
Finding a job
Job resources are first and foremost. Especially for people that have trouble affording Internet access. As cited in the story, McDonalds puts their hiring needs online. Anyone who has done job hunting or applied for entrance to an institution of higher learning in the past decade certainly knows the advantage of Internet access. But lets stick to jobs.
Lets say you want to work for the federal government. How do you learn about a vacancy (gov-speak for an opening) if you don’t have Internet access? I called the Office of Personnel Management. After finding the phone number online, I called 202.686.1800, was informed by the tele-voice to get details at USAJobs.gov. I waited for a live person and asked how to learn about vacancies by any source besides the Internet. No dice. You want to work for the government? You want to be part of the economic recovery? Get online. It’s USAJobs.gov or no government job. The private sector isn’t much forgiving. If you’re not on Monster, Symplicity, Craigslist, BradTraverse, Idealist and networking on LinkedIn, Facebook and the myriad listservs that populate the Internet Job-o-sphere, you’re dead in the road.
If you want information on unemployment – whether you’re eligible, what documents to bring in so you don’t waste your time in line, etc…you may want to check online. If you want to find an unemployment office, you can go to the phone book, look it up, go to a bus station, look at the schedule, chart your route – or you can do it all online. If you want an unemployment benefits service to assist you with the process, sign on via the Internet. Have a new claim? Fill out an online application 24/7 OR try calling an overloaded toll-free number to request a paper application (on the day of the week that corresponds to your SSN) and spend time you could be putting to better use looking for a job waiting on the phone.
Can you access all this at your local library, community center or office? Perhaps. But outages, personal schedules, lines for computers and time-limits on usage can make these options a distant second. Lets work to make sure the $7.2B the stimulus sets out to improve broadband access gets used properly.
Is the Internet a necessity yet: no. Is it more than a convenience: undoubtedly.