Why IS Digital Inclusion Important?
by Mike Wassenaar, SPNN Executive Director
Teams from nine US cities gathered in Saint Paul in June to try to figure out how they can kick-start digital inclusion in their communities. They're part of a pilot program for Digital Communities put together by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) that's meant to insure that all Americans have access to broadband and the ability to use it to better their lives.
Saint Paul had one of those teams, with representatives from the Saint Paul Public Library, the City of Saint Paul, and a local community-based organization, Nexus Community Partners. Groups at the Digital Communities Summit represented small rural areas and large cities. Despite the differences in the communities they served, they all shared the vision that their community needs to improve the number of people for whom broadband has a meaningful part of their lives.
We have some experience with Digital Inclusion at SPNN. For the last eight years, we've been the lead partner in the Community Technology Empowerment Project, and we've worked with thousands of people in Minneapolis and Saint Paul who want to better their lives by becoming digitally literate and attending a community access computer center.
I spoke to the group about our experiences at SPNN with digital inclusion, with including all citizens in the electronic commons. Local, state and federal governments will increasingly use online maens to deliver services and engage with the public they are morally obliged to serve. But if those citizens disappear because they lack access, skills and economic means, there will be a failure of governance in the US.
Beyond that, Americans are already alienated from government and politics. I think we're also in danger of creating "insider economics" that goes hand-in-hand with "insider politics." If most economic opportunities are linked to being online, and being fully digitally literate, we have an economic obligation to ensure that every American has the ability to participate in the economy.
If we turn our back on that vision, we do so at our peril, widening inequality and lessening the opportunity for every American to participate fully in the economy. Hopefully this federal initiative by IMLS will jump start efforts in these nine cities to change that.