Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact
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
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?
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.
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