In 2013, more Americans than ever are online. In the eyes of activist Larry Ortega, this is unequivocally a positive development. But to call the digital divide closed, even between groups of people who possess the ability to access the Internet, is something he profoundly disagrees with.
‟There’s a misconception that just because someone has Internet access, the digital divide,” the gap between those with Internet access and those without, “has been eliminated,” charges Ortega, who heads a chapter of the digital literacy group One Million New Internet Users.
The problem, Ortega argues, is that large swaths of the population, groups that are predominantly poor and non-white, are largely relying solely on smartphones for Internet access. It’s created a two-tiered system where the rich have access to expensive, high-speed broadband Internet at home and everyone else is relegated to slower connections on mobile devices that seriously limit users’ ability to contribute to the digital conversation.
Ortega views this emerging digital divide as one between “digital consumers” on one hand and “digital contributors” on the other, illustrating the gap with an example from near his home in Southern California. He tells the story of a diverse coalition of groups organizing in favor of ordinances in the cities of El Monte and Pomona that would allow the local governments to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages from the banks that hold them. There’s a major grassroots mobilization of local activists to push the ordinances through in the hopes that freeing people in these communities trapped under the crushing weight of the mortgages could jumpstart the region’s moribund economy.
This activity has occurred through mobile-friendly networks like Facebook and Twitter; however, the original spark that kicked it off—the composition of op-eds in favor of the motion, the creation of YouTube videos explaining exactly what eminent domain is, and more—could never have happened exclusively on mobile devices.
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc