“Group Tries to Close the Digitial Divide”

The Advertiser surprises this morning with a story—a good one—on Lafayette’s Digital Divide Project. It’s surprising because there is no particular “event” to hang it on and events are usually requried to make the paper. Instead this is an educational article that straight-forwardly informs the public about that which they should be aware. Education is a too-oft neglected function that legitimates real reporting—good for the daily.

The author interviews Huval and Walter Guillory on the efforts of the Digital Divide Committee. That committee has been quiescent since the referendum battle heated up but before that produced an excellent roadmap for “Bridging the Digital Divide” in our community. (Full disclosure: I am a member of that group.) After the fiber bonds were cleared and the process of building the network gotten underway the committee was reconvened.

The article outlines the roadmap pretty clearly; it gets the goal right:

A committee set up as part of Lafayette Utilities System’s fiber-to-the-home project is moving forward in its efforts to try to provide Internet service to all residents.

That is the point; that and trying to make higher-level, more valuable capacities usably available to the people of Lafayette—to make the city truly “digital” for all.

The paper also focuses attention on what research shows is, hands down, the most effective way to increase participation:

LUS Director Terry Huval said that one major goal of the fiber initiative has been to provide telephone, cable and Internet service for about 20 percent less than what consumers currently pay…”If we offered that ‘triple play’ pricing, a consumer could pay the same for all three services as they pay now for phone and cable.”

Walter Guillory, chairman of the Digital Divide committee, said that with that type of pricing, more residents could use the Internet for personal, business or educational purposes.

Guillory is right….and Huval is right about the target:

“Whatever we do, we want something that could be available to every residential consumer,” Huval said, adding that consumers may be able to pay for the devices over time.

Things are moving to the next level and the list of projects (read work) is growing:

Huval said committee members and LUS are still examining what type of products could be used to help bridge the gap. Among the possibilities are devices that connect to TV sets and laptops that could be sold at a reduced price.

That’s a difficult project all by itself….Computing power is getting cheaper and it’s moving into all sorts of mobile devices—think Blackberries and the iPhone. Laptops originaly designed for 3rd world countries and children are now falling below the 275 dollar mark with a clear target of 100 dollars. (See the OLPC project for the best-known example.) Making wise decisions about what to support and promote is critically important to the future of the community.

More for the to-do list:

  • Make donated or low-cost computers available to qualified customers.
  • Develop community training facilities.
  • Support high-level local products that would reflect local cultures.
  • Provide low-cost or free Web-based programs.
  • Provide CD-based free software for off-line use.
  • I encourage any reader to consider joining up to tackle the job. Lafayette’s advanced network is already slated to be more than mind-numbingly fast and cheap. It will have the unique feature of being configured to give everyone the same, high, at least 100 megs of intranet bandwidth. We’ll all be able to pull things off the local network at speeds limited not by our income but only by the limits of the network itself. And those limits boggle the mind. Lafayette is poised to become the world’s largest big bandwidth community; it could easily have the majority of the population connected at the same internal speed to that enormous pipe. Developers and users will be able to count on that capacity in developing new products and services. No one will have to “dumb-down” their offerings because a large part of the audience has to take their data in little dribs and drabs.

    The major impediment to realize some pretty fantastic dreams (what’s yours?) is simply finding people with the time and energy to further these goals.

    Sign up, for the committee or simply to work on a project. Get in touch with Terry Huval at LUS. Or I’d be happy, more than happy, to talk to anyone about any aspect. (JohnDD(at)LafayetteProFiber.com)