Saturday, January 21, 2006

Getting across the "Divide."

There have already been many times on this blog, where the issue of the Digital Divide has come up and a variety of possible ways it can be dealt with. When speaking about the Digital Divide, there is really two issues to deal with; the first is a hardware issue and the second is a access issue. Great strides have been made on both of these fronts over the past year and presently, we are at a time when you can almost touch the other side. So, where are we at?

Previously on this blog there has been mention of free Wi-Fi access in many cities close to Capuchino. San Francisco, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Santa Clara will have some form of free Wi-Fi within the next year. In the past there was mention of the 'technological hurdles' that needed to be cleared for broadbased metropolitan Wi-Fi access, that isn't the case any more. The hurdles that need to be cleared now are definitely political and not technical. There are many small towns looking at creating their own high-speed fiber optic network. Some of the reasons are comical; like in Keene, NH, or economic; like South Dakota or Indiana. Some major cities believe that they must provide free and open Wi-Fi to truly be considered a 'TechCity.' There are even grassroots efforts to get people that have broadband access in their home to allow neighbors to share their connection with neighbors. In an attempt to keep market share, AT&T, formerly SBC, is offering a DSL line for $14.95 a month. There are also several dial-up connection companies providing access for $5.50 for the first three months and $11 a month after the trial period. With all of these things going on, one would believe that having access to a high bandwidth connection for anyone who really wants it is a reality.

The Internet access part of the equation is becoming a non-issue for anyone serious about having it. So, how do we solve the second part of the equation, getting hardware and software into the hands of students. Hardware is continually coming down in price, even some components that consumers were paying a premium for just a few months earlier. Hard drives, which once cost over $10 per Gigabyte, are now below $1 per Gigabyte. Most applications available today will run well on computer systems that are considered average or even a little on the slow side. The reality of the situation is that new computer systems that will run any application necessary for students to fully engage themselves into the content on the Internet can be built for less than $150 in parts. Add a surplus monitor, which are available for $5 - $10 and the student has a conduit to all of the information any of his classmates would have. We are also getting donations of computers form many different sources, including ROP, which the students in the Technology Arts classes can refurbish and give to students.

What about the operating system and software? Many of these computers will run better on some form Linux, (Free!) then they would in Windows. (See previous entry on Google rumor!) And many of the newer forms of Linux look and operate just like Windows. The step in this process that has improved greatly over the past 6 months is the huge increase in free software applications available to students. Google created their own 'Pack' of applications. There have been others, including one from 'Life Hacker.' These groupings of applications give any student access to all of the the tools necessary to become part of the 'Digital World.'

Now, there is no excuse... by early April, the Technology Arts students should have some computers to begin to give to students that do not have access to one at home.

No comments: