Thursday, August 17, 2006

Universal Web Access

The promise of a New South (as in the United States) has long been bedeviled by the very concentrations of wealth that spawned the term. In short form, the complete takeover of Southern politics by the combined forces of the noveau riche and the evangelical right wing which finds such fertile ground in the native traditional culture stymies progress in providing the very means by which a democratic society is created: exchange of information. While declaring surpluses and tax cuts, the areas of the South that could benefit most immediately from access to the Internet are twenty-five miles from a browser.

Internet access and skills today define literacy. Those left behind in this information revolution cannot succeed in today's job market or even their own culture. To be uninformed is to be dispossessed.

The information revolution that we speak of so powerfully as a transformative force for other countries such as China isn't available to the rural South without investments from State government and far sighted planning. It is achievable but that requires policy and leadership.

I had a chance to chat with Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley yesterday. She is the Democratic Party candidate for Governor in a State where all of the money is betting on the Republican candidate. I was very impressed with Mrs Baxley. The initiatives she proposes look to the future of the State of Alabama. While the Republicans are continuing their tired tactics of isms and distortion, Lucy Baxley is providing a clear-minded and bold but practical approach to the challenges we face at the dawn ofthe 21st century.

I was particularly impressed with her eagerness to begin enabling Internet access to the rural residents so that their children wil lbe better prepared for the 21st century economy. If information exchange is the definition of democracy, such an initiative brings both knowledge and democracy to every citizen as a right sustained by good government.

I admired her character and ethics in saying she did not have all the answers for getting this done,but insisting that just as we had to wire the rural South for electricity not that long ago, we had to bring the information highway by starting now and solving the problem one step at a time.

While this a State election probably of not much concern to the web community, I wonder if candidacies such as hers are not golden opportunities for the open source community to advance its own economic model with ideas for how such rural literacy and senior citizen access can be achieved.

What can open source provide to make such a promise achievable and sustainable? What must we do to make it open to all who wish to learn and achieve? Inclusiveness and transparency are the twin horses of open source. Inclusiveness and transparency are the twin goals of the Baxley campaign. Whatever the political pundits say, we who have the brains and the knowledge have left the choices for the future of our communities for too long in the hands of those who believe that proprietary control preserves their wealth even if at the cost of our future. It's good to win in Boston, but American political power is in the South and so is the red state base of ignorance.

While nothing will change that tomorrow, only education has a chance of changing that at all. I would appreciate your insights into the challenges of bringing the Internet into the rural South where driving to a library every day as a means for a child to do their homework isn't a practical answer.

Perhaps the Googles, Red Hats, Suns and IBMs of the world have an answer. Perhaps the Gates Foundation will help as well. Meanwhile, perhaps the collective brain power of the web can help with ideas as to how this can be achieved.

What will it take to create a model for universal access that is realizable, scalable, sustainable and replicable to other parts of the world?

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