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Here Come The Cyberghettos 1 August 2002 Edition
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Up until now, going online has been an optional component of life and commerce -- but it seems that this is all about to change.

In recent times, the vast majority of businesses and individuals haven't required any prompting to "get connected."

Indeed, if you've got a teenage son or daughter the problem is more likely to be one of getting them off the Net and onto their homework.

However, there are still a reasonable number of people who don't use the Net and (gasp) even some who don't have a computer.

The same goes for business -- I still find a few hold-outs who tell me they don't have a website or an email address.

A couple of news stories which have been aired in recent days indicate quite clearly that the digital divide is widening and those who aren't online are becoming increasingly disadvantaged.

Take for example this story from IDG.

It seems that if you're hoping to do business with the government in future then not being online could significantly compromise your chances.

Perhaps the government's push to move so much of its activities to the Net is one of the key driving forces behind its desire to get better levels of access for urban and rural kiwis?

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    But wait (as they say on the infomercials)... there's more!

    It seems that if you want to book one of those crazy low prices that Air NZ has just announced for its budget domestic flights then a Net connections essential.

    That's right -- it's no good queuing at the travel agents, you've got to fire up that PC and plug in your modem if you want reasonably priced air travel.

    It's my bet that these examples are just the start of a trend that will become very pronounced over the next few years. It's almost certain that by 2004, anyone without the ability to log onto the Net will end up paying more and having far less choice than the rest of us.

    Which raises the issue of the "digital divide."

    What about all those people who don't even have a phone?

    I gather that there are parts of the country, Northland in particular, where a small but significant percentage of dwellings don't even have power let alone modern inventions such as a telephone.

    The people occupying these houses are already at a significant disadvantage -- so won't pushing an increasing number of government and commercial services into the "Net only" basket simply exacerbate this disparity?

    What will be the point of offering ubiquitous broadband coverage when a small but important sector of the population can't afford to have the power connected?

    Could we be about to coin a new phrase? -- "cyberghetto"

    Footnote: For what it's worth, I expect these new "cheap" airfares to last about as long as "free Internet" services did.

    Have your say.

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