Guest post by Sharon Crost, cross-posted on the Network Sierra blog.
Let’s do a quick thinking exercise: think for a few seconds about the Central Sierra. Do you think of history and the Gold Rush and panning for gold? Or do you think of Yosemite National Park, Bear Valley or Dodge Ridge, tasting wine, jumping frogs, or enjoying the outdoors? Well some of us who have come to the Central Sierra post-Gold Rush think that the Central Sierra is a gorgeous place to work and live and play. It’s so livable in a way, but in a way not at all. Because about 40% of the people who reside in the Central Sierra don’t have access to high speed internet, called “broadband”.
So now let’s think for a few seconds about dial-up internet connection. Do you know, or remember what it’s like to dial up to the internet via modem? Similar to the Gold Rush, you may think of this as ancient history? The internet is now celebrating its 40th birthday, but a significant portion of our Central Sierra community is STILL connecting to the internet in it’s adolescent connection form, via dial-up.
Now think about what it means to peddle on dial-up while your neighbors are racing on the super highway. You can’t participate in everyday applications such as watching videos, downloading files, takes classes via distance learning, manage your health, transact business online or communicate with your family. Surprisingly, while you are peddling on dial-up, your mates in many third world economies are connecting and thriving. Broadband access means economic and job development, telehealth, communication, education, environmental sustainability and a future for youth that want to stay and thrive in rural communities.
Clearly we need ubiquitous access to broadband, and the Central Sierra and many other rural communities are on the losing side of the digital equality access game. So I’m part of a group of crusaders working to reduce the digital divide in rural communities. You can help too. You can help create a new history for rural communities. You’ve already been thinking about the issue for the last few precious seconds and one of the great advantages of ubiquitous broadband is that it gives everyone an equal voice. In fact, Network Sierra’s Community Access project is an excellent example of project planning to assist a community to create and engage in local issues and news and information and entertainment and art, enabled by broadband. Stay tuned to this blog and check out the Central Sierra Connect project or the California Emerging Technologies Fund for more information and to take action.
Oh, and there’s one final thing to think about in this exercise… think about the reality of high-speed connection throughout the Central Sierra, in rural communities as in big cities, everywhere. Communities prospecting for gold on an equal playing field, engaging and thriving. It’s a thought as good as gold.
Sharon Crost is an educator and a consultant mentoring leaders to develop thriving communities. She tweets as mktwow and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org