How Information Economics Divides us Digitally

Since when is providing a common good a bad thing? I think good goes bad when good is free/low-cost/easily accessible.

A story in the Washington Post (linked here from the Talking Points Memo blog) talks about how BellSouth got a change of heart soon after they heard that New Orleans was thinking of free, municipal wireless internet access. They were going to donate one of their buildings to the city, but now they will charge for it instead. Well, after all, if people aren’t paying for internet access, then they have oodles of money laying around to male building lease payments to BellSouth in the for of increased taxes. Not to mention that taxes will be even more astronomical given that the N.O. Tax base is below that of the population at the summit of Mt. Everest. Quite empathetic indeed.

All that good, I mean bad stuff aside, let’s think of another reason that a large corporation would not want a bunch of poor folk to have free internet access. If they saw that they could receive BETTER service for FREE, they may NEVER come back! They definitely cannot have that, seeing as how they make the bulk of their revenue is by fleecing poor people at high volumes. Let’s also do what we can to thwart this effort because internet access = information access = people who are no longer ignorant. And it is hard to make money off of informed people.

I describe this in the above terms to call out the digital divide from a slightly different angle. Information economics tells us that there is value in information asymmetry. The idea is that if parties are on the same footing information-wise, they are less able or likely to take advantage of each other. The digital divide is an interesting example of this theory at work because it deals with the value of information both intrinsically and extrinsically. Withholding the intrinsic value that comes with knowledge and access to knowledge from people allows entities like BellSouth and others to extract extrinsic (in this case, monetary) value.

How is this combated? The only way to defeat those who wish to have you maintain your ignorance is to elevate yourself out of that ignorance. I pray that officials in New Orleans press on despite corporate intimidation tactics, and take this small step towards bring poor people to the right side of the digital divide.

Garlin Gilchrist II

Sent via Wireless Handheld



About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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