Is bandwidth the new digital divide?

As this week’s Chronicle suggests, “A new kind of digital divide means that online courses might not be available for everyone.” This is not a new problem, and is in fact one that librarians have described for ten years or more. While many scholarly journal and database publishers offer free or low cost access to educational institutions in African countries, access is nevertheless constrained by expensive and limited bandwidth. Reduced or waived access fees are a good first step, but don’t solve the problem of access to educational and scholarly information in developing areas, including for most of Africa. Financial support for developing world educational access would be a great next step and a relevant, worthy cause for commercial publishers, content providers, and aggregators to take on!

Young, Jeffrey R. 2013. “‘Bandwidth Divide’ Could Bar Some People From Online Learning.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (News / Technology). March 4.

Only one-fifth of elementary- and secondary-school teachers in the United States said that all or most of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home, according to survey results released by the group last week. In some developing countries—where leaders of massive open online courses hope they will have an impact as well—broadband Internet access can be far harder to come by.

Since I mentioned worthy causes, let me say that I’ve been meaning to highlight the e-Granary project at Widernet for many months. This is a good opportunity to take a look at their truly innovative and practical approach to this problem, which they have worked to mitigate since 2001:

The eGranary is installed in more than 590 schools, clinics, and universities in Africa, India, Bangladesh, Haiti and other locations. The project aims to expand its installations to thousands of schools, hospitals and universities in underserved areas around the globe.

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