Bridging the digital divide in the city

When people think of bridging the digital divide, it typically conjures up images of rural folks having access to the Internet.But actually, the divide happens in the cities, too.

When people think of bridging the digital divide, it typically conjures up images of rural folks having access to the Internet.

But actually, the divide happens in the cities, too. Many people are still unconnected.

When I read this story about how London was leading in the city Wi-Fi race, I thought it meant that London had the best free Wi-Fi coverage.

However, the story wasn't about free Wi-Fi coverage but simply Wi-Fi penetration in the three cities. According to the article, there are 7,130 access points in London compared to 6,371 in New York and 827 in Paris. But these are not all free hotspots. In London, the vast majority--94 percent--of the access points are inside businesses and the remainder are hotspots in cafes and libraries that the public can use.

So what could the local or federal government do if it really wanted to bridge the digital divide in the city? Provide free Wi-Fi for all citizens of the city!

Of course, it would wreak havoc on the business models of ISPs if high-speed broadband was available to all for free.

Perhaps, a solution would be to make the free Wi-Fi available at slower speeds. Consumers who want faster speeds would have to pay for an upgrade.

That way, you address the digital divide issue (anyone who wants Internet access can have it, albeit not at high speeds) and you also give commercial ISPs some competition without killing them.

Imagine the boost that would give to the economy. All kinds of new businesses centered around the Internet would blossom. This is what a real knowledge economy is all about.

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