Friday, December 03, 2010 By Aaron Brown
But this is only part of the fight yet to come. The technology, the intricacies of which would baffle most folks, including myself, is something that can be contained, encouraged, and grown through a combination of federal or state initiative and private industry investment and profit. That's the part that we can possibly predict. The next part, however, is how we use the capability. This is something totally unknown.
There are two main problems with the rural/Iron Range high speed internet conundrum: usage and access.
On access, social class, education and income again enter the equation as they always do through history. People who have more education and a reasonable income (lower middle class or better) are very likely to thrive with new technology and internet access. Low income people with less education are less likely to use or benefit from such technology. They can and will, but not right away. This is a growing problem on the Iron Range and in most other places in the Rust Belt. Mashable recently highlighted a Pew Research study showing how income disparity influenced internet usage.
On usage, same problem. If an area isn't already an internet haven, it will go through a predictable, moderately ugly phase in transition. The Boston Review has an interesting story on what has happened in poverty-stricken areas that invested in "telecenters" as a solution to their economic ills. In truth, such places attract low income men who seek entertainment and adult content. Oops. That's not the goal, is it? The truth is that internet access is only useful as an economic tool if it is combined with education and a society open to new kids of businesses that use the internet. The emphasis, as will be the case here for decades, should be how living in northern Minnesota is interesting, attractive, and unlike any of the typical options in American urban, suburban life.
In this issue, as is seen in Iron Range history, we must again play for generational goals, not immediate results. We must create a system by which the children of people who live here succeed, benefit, grow businesses and accomplish human goals.
(h/t Andrew Sullivan)