The challenges of redressing the digital divide: a tale of two US cities

 Por Lynette Kvasny y Mark Keil
In this paper, we examine efforts undertaken by two cities – Atlanta and LaGrange, Georgia – to redress the digital divide. Atlanta’s initiative has taken the form of community technology centres where citizens can come to get exposure to the internet, and learn something about computers and their applications. LaGrange has taken a very different approach, providing free internet access to the home via a digital cable set-top box. Using theoretical constructs from Bourdieu, we analysed how the target populations and service providers reacted to the two initiatives, how these reactions served to reproduce the digital divide, and the lessons for future digital divide initiatives. In our findings and analysis, we see a reinforcement of the status quo. When people embrace these initiatives, they are full of enthusiasm, and there is no question that some learning occurs and that the programmes are beneficial. However, there is no mechanism for people to go to the next step, whether that is technical certification, going to college, buying a personal computer or escaping the poverty that put them on the losing end of the divide in the first place. This leads us to conclude that the Atlanta and LaGrange programmes could be classified as successes in the sense that they provided access and basic computer literacy to people lacking these resources. However, both programmes were, at least initially, conceived rather narrowly and represent short-term, technology-centric fixes to a problem that is deeply rooted in longstanding and systemic patterns of spatial, political and economic disadvantage. A persistent divide exists even when cities are giving away theoretically ‘free’ goods and services.

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