Why Mobile Phones Are Not the Key to the Digital Divide

Earlier this week  I tweeted

I whole heartedly, unequivocally disagree with this! Mobile access helps agencies break past digital divide 

Which linked to this article from, Pew Internet and American life – Mobile access helps agencies break past digital divide | Interview with Aaron Smith. In which Smith says

“I think mobile is playing a key role in bridging those gaps between people who have that broadband connection at home and people who don’t. It really gives people an economically viable opportunity to tap into the online world that they wouldn’t normally have,”

I got some responses back on Twitter including from Jason Griffey and Tiffini Travis disagreeing with me, Jason suggested dueling blog posts.  Earlier this year I wrote a post entitled Mobile Phones Are Not The Key to Bridging the Digital Divide in response to an NPR story, A Digital Revolution In The Palm Of Your Hand.   Since this is actually my second attempt at addressing this issue on my blog I hope I am more elegant, articulate and successful in delivering my message.

Reports and studies show that  minorities and lower-income households rely on mobile access because they do not have access at home.

Other cultural forces aside, minorities, lower-income households and younger adults access the Internet at higher rates on mobile devices because they often do not have computers at home. – NYT, 2010

According to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan

Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life. It is enabling entire new industries and unlocking vast new possibilities for existing ones. It is changing how we educate children, deliver health care, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government, and access, organize and disseminate knowledge.

I agree with Jason, mobile technology is improving at a rapid pace.  However, it is not on par with a computer with a high-speed internet connection.  There are many things you still can not do with a mobile phone, even a smart phone.  Are we really willing to say that this less robust point of access is acceptable for minorities and the economically challenged?

As I said before:

I firmly believe that this will result in the sort of second class citizens that the Knight Commission warns us about. Please don’t make me point out the problem of accepting a sub-standard option for minorities.

We must acknowledge that, while mobile access is better than no access, it is still not the equivalent of high-speed access from a computer. It is not acceptable for privileged, economically sound, techno savvy people to state that these two forms of access are the same. When you look at the reasons for the National Broadband Plan:

  • education
  • health care
  • public safety
  • civic engagement
  • access, organize and disseminate knowledge.

How is a separate and inferior point of access acceptable for a different socio-economic group of people?

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15 thoughts on “Why Mobile Phones Are Not the Key to the Digital Divide

  1. “Are we really willing to say that this less robust point of access is acceptable for minorities and the economically challenged?”

    This is such an important point that is missing in much of the current mobile/app excitement. Many people with disabilities are also disadvantaged by concentrating on mobile access as the great equalizer.


  2. I think this write up was really a solid beginning to a potential series of blog posts about this topic. A lot of bloggers pretend to understand what they are writing about when it comes to this topic and most of the time, hardly anyone actually get it. You seem to know about it though, so I think you ought to take it and run. Thank you!


  3. Thanks for the post, Bobbie. I’ve been flipping back and forth between yours and Griffey’s post most of the afternoon. I see great points on both sides. There seems to be two different forms of techno-literacies at play here, one mobile, the other desktop. I can see it happening daily at the community college I work at. Students who have smart phones, who have no computer at home, but are still confused about the simple tasks required of them when we’re done with our library instruction classes. From confusion over how the drop-down menu works on our website to not realizing the full potential of Google Scholar. The list goes on. Very pleased to be following this discussion between you both. 🙂


    1. David – In places where there is no other option it is better than nothing. My issue is if we are planning and working towards equal access we can not say a less robust option is acceptable for certain groups of people.


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