The First Step Toward Digital Equality
While San Francisco has made halting progress towards increasing Internet access for its citizens, our digital divide is still stark. (For example, just 60 percent of Latinos can access the Internet from home, as opposed to 87 percent of Whites).
And perhaps no data is more concerning than the report that San Francisco ranks last in computers per 100 students among California cities.
While Reset fully supports taking further steps to expand free WiFi, it seems we’re overlooking the crucial first step: guaranteeing San Franciscans have the devices they need to get online in the first place.
The cost of a new laptop runs nearly a thousand dollars. An effective smartphone can be a couple of hundred. Wireless Internet may be free in some parts of the city, but the cost of getting online with a reliable device is prohibitively expensive for many families.
Hardware, Not Software
The first step towards ensuring digital equality for all San Franciscans should be providing the equipment required to access the world of information – and opportunity – buzzing above our heads. In the words of many a help center specialist, what we’re facing isn’t a software problem – it’s a hardware problem.
There is one city program, the Computer Refurbishing Partnership, designed to give donated, refurbished laptops to low income San Franciscans. But after two years of work, they’ve distributed just over 100 machines.
There is clearly much more that we can do. Like focusing on collecting the countless city and private sector computers that get thrown out each year, refurbishing them, and putting them in the hands of the people who need them.
But what shouldn’t continue is a piecemeal approach. Good programs like the Computer Refurbishing Partnership deserve our help now.
In the long run – this is a problem the entire city needs to address. It is a civil rights challenge. And it is the key to unlocking the power and savings of Gov 2.0.
That’s why Reset continues to advocate for Universal Access to the Internet.