Sunday, May 22, 2016

Universal data access for all Americans - what would it look like?

The NYT has another “digital divide” article, this time using Detroit. I think they might be doing a series on this topic.

The problem of net access isn’t unique to Detroit, it applies to every low income American, which includes pretty much every special needs adult. A smartphone (net phone?) isn’t an option, it’s a necessity for modern life [1]. That’s one the reasons I’m writing my book on smartphones for special needs teens and adults.

It’s not hard to give everyone a smartphone. We’ll be drowning in cheap Android devices soon. The problem is data access. Home WiFi, which is notoriously unreliable and complex, costs at least $35/month in most markets. Home WiFi is too complex for most people to maintain anyway. Cellular data costs about the same per month, but it’s tricky to meter and it’s per-person, not per-family. For a family of five we’re looking at $175 a month — too much for a low income family.

So we need some universal mobile data access that everyone gets. Something around 1GB a month. That’s enough to support essential interactions, but not enough for streaming video. 

I’m thinking we’ll either end up with something that’s funded by advertising (Facebook, Google) [2] or a public mandate. It might be a good idea to do both. Either way it will need to incorporate some kind of intelligent data use and filtering.

Whatever happens supporters of special needs adults should be engaged.

[1] Many government programs still have ancient web sites that don’t work well on a smartphone browser. The good news is that hackers are tearing those web sites apart, so they’ll need to be upgraded. In time we may need to bring ADA suits against government web sites that are not smartphone accessible.

[2] Low income advertising, best seen on daytime TV, is often predatory. That is, it’s advertising for services and products that are largely harmful scams. That will be a problem.

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