…And free wireless for all

Published 11:27 pm Monday, December 1, 2008

In a society with too large a gap between the haves and the have-nots, information has become almost as important as money. And information is increasingly being dealt via the Internet.

Those proficient at using computers have a distinct advantage over those that don’t when it comes to paying bills, choosing a candidate for political office, applying for a job or even shopping for Christmas presents. It would be OK if this was simply a matter of choice, but it’s not in too many cases. Older citizens never used computers in school, and poorer citizens don’t have the means to attain Internet access.

The United States could take an important step toward a more level playing field if the Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 18 votes in favor of a plan that would spread free broadband across the country.

The needed airwaves sit idle, and Americans could begin receiving free Internet access within a year, according to USA Today. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin favors the idea, according to the story, because he would like to see broadband available in rural areas, where many still use dialup and satellite-based Internet. About 38 percent of rural households have broadband, while the number is at least 57 percent in urban and suburban areas.

Of course, wireless carriers oppose the plan because they will lose customers — probably a lot of them. It’s hard to imagine many people paying for Internet access when they can access the same Internet for free. The carriers’ only hope will be to offer premium broadband that operates at faster speeds.

A sudden availability of public broadband does seem little unfair to these wireless carriers, but the pros of this plan would far outweigh the negatives. Sure, Internet access doesn’t do a lot of good for those that can’t afford a computer, but it’s a step in the right direction: toward a society where all information is available to all.

– Stephen Dawkins is the sports editor for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Tuesday. He can be reached at stephen.dawkins@clantonadvertiser.com.