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