The Information Imperative

Free Press Summit

"Changing Media" summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a thought-provoking idea: Just as our nation aggressively ensured the flow of electricity across the land in the 20th century, we similarly need to ensure the flow of information across the land in the 21st century.

Speakers at this week’s “Changing Media” summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., say this will require a national broadband policy. (In simplest terms, broadband refers to high-speed internet access.)

Derek Turner, research director for the media reform group Free Press, said 40% of American homes do not have an internet connection or have slow dial-up technology, placing them at a disadvantage in the Information Age. Most of the disadvantaged are the poor and the rural, just as these were the last to get electricity decades ago.

His colleague, policy director Ben Scott, observed that the internet today is         “a fantastic publishing and postal system” reminiscent of colonial times when newspapers became publishers of information and the Post Office became distributors of information. Today, the internet serves both roles with lightning speed. But those who are poor or live in rural areas are unable to access this “fantastic publishing and postal system.”

If we believe that a free flow of information is a bedrock principle of a functioning democracy, then we have a lot of Americans being left out of the national knowledge base and conversation. A national broadband policy would serve the public interest by ensuring that all Americans have the informational equivalent of electricity.

I hear about the problem in a personal dimension when I go home each day. My wife is a fourth-grade teacher in the public schools. She wants to give assignments to her students that require them to conduct research online, whether it’s about state parks or U.S. presidents. Alas, many of her students don’t have internet access in their homes. Think of the disadvantage this places those children.

We heard from the current chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Michael Copps, who told the summit: “We are depriving the public of the depth and breadth of information that a democracy needs.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Communications Today, Research

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