The digital divide, or the gap between those with regular, effective access to digital technology and those without, is becoming an increasingly critical problem in San Francisco. As more and more information becomes electronic – health records are just the latest example – the inability to get online can leave whole groups at a dangerous disadvantage.A (cautionary) tale of two cities

San Francisco, the birthplace of the web 2.0 revolution, is currently at risk of creating two classes of citizens – those who have access to the web’s job markets, educational opportunities, health care resources and government services, and those who don’t. Think of it as the 21st century’s have and have-nots.

Familiar Fault Lines

And sadly, San Francisco’s digital divide falls along the same uncomfortable racial and socio-economic fault lines that characterize so many of our social problems. Caucasians are twice as likely to have home Internet access than African Americans are. Bayview Hunters Point, Crocker Amazon, Chinatown, Visitacion Valley and the Tenderloin have significantly lower rates of home technology use than the rest of the city. Sixty-six percent of Latinos report having a home computer, as opposed to 88 percent of Caucasians.

So what kind of responsibility does our city government have to ensure that everyone has equal access? What should we be doing to make sure that all San Franciscans – not just those with enough cash for a Mac and a data package – can do their homework, look for work or compare housing options?

half bridge

One City

Over the past few years, our civic leaders have taken steps to address the problem. We’ve made a concerted effort to blanket San Francisco with WiFi. But when one in five San Franciscans is unable to get online and is effectively disenfranchised, we clearly aren’t doing enough.

It’s no secret that I believe Internet access is a civil right. San Francisco should be one city, without swaths of citizens left behind as we transition to a digital economy. As mayor, I will make online access equality a priority, because it shouldn’t matter what neighborhood you live in or where you come from. Information is power – the power to improve your economic situation, participate in public debate and communicate with your government. And every San Franciscan deserves that right.

That’s why we have made Universal Access to the Internet such a key part of Reset San Francisco and my campaign for mayor.

This, of course, is about more than civil rights. If we create Universal Access we can finally make the leap to a true Gov 2.0 architecture that would make government services dramatically faster, more effective and less costly. That means more problems solved for the same amount of money.

The Civic Return on Investment of Gov 2.0 would be dramatic – paying for the cost of guaranteeing Universal Access many times over.

But that’s a benefit – and not just a reason. As someone who has worked in the civil rights field, I strongly believe that closing the digital divide is going to be one of the next, and most important, civil rights challenges of the coming decade.

The fact that we can do better as a city – by doing the right thing as a community – only makes this effort more important.

Help us do the right thing – and do better as a city. Please sign the Universal Access petition today.