Meshing the Digital Divide

The digital divide is defined as the “gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels in regards to opportunities access information and use communication technologies (ICTs) and their use of the internet for a wide variety of activities” (OECD, 2011). Lei & Zhou believe the digital divide “refers to the technology capacity gap between those who have accesses to rich digital information and those who have not” (Lei & Zhup.45).

In 2014, it was estimated that around 15 million Americans do not have access to entry-level broadband Internet connections (Wheeler, 2014). Most of these Americans live in rural areas around the country, though that is not the only place this connectivity issue can be found. In urban areas, 31% of schools lack access to fiber-optic networks while the number shoots to 41% for rural areas (Wheeler, 2014). Our schools and libraries must have access to fiber-optic connections to give students the most innovative tools for them to gain an education with. As we move further and further into the digital age it has become imperative that our children understand what Internet access can bring them. It is even more important that they learn Internet literacy and how to use the Internet in a positive way.

You may remember the uprising in Egypt in 2011 or more recently the protests headed by college students that have been going on in Hong Kong. These groups of activists both saw their government’s block and in some cases even shut down the Internet. In both cases, the activists turned to what is known as a “mesh-network” (Knibbs, 2014 Tofel, 2011). A mesh network is that enables a communication technologies device to receive and transmit signals. Tofel calims the mesh network to do “much like a router for does in wireless homes” (Tofel, 2011). In Hong Kong protesters are using an app called FireChat that assist people in creating mesh-networks for their phones. FireChat works using Bluetooth technology on the mobile phone to link with other mobile devices setting up a network (Knibbs, 2014). Even if one device goes off line this does not harm the network. Currently FireChat supports a geographical limit of 200 feet per connection. Given the right set of connections the network could stretch for miles on end.

My idea is to create a mesh-network application that runs across all phones, tablets, and computers regardless of operating system. This application is being made for schools and libraries to bring higher speed Internet connections to learning school children. I’d like to use the theory of mesh-networks to bring high-speed Internet access to these learning institutions. In Red Hook Brooklyn, students set up their own Wi-Fi mesh networks with help of a local ISP Brooklyn Fiber (Lumb, 2013). The application will be sign in based on all systems, in which once signed in the system searches for a close high-speed connection. The more devices connected to the application, the more options of better speeds will become available. This idea will allow fast Internet into schools and libraries without the cost of digging up old phone lines.

References

Knibbs, K. (2014, September 24). Protesters Are Using FireChat’s Mesh Networks To Organize in Hong Kong. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://gizmodo.com/protesters-are-using-firechat-to-organize-in-hong-kong-1640271776

Lei, J., & Zhou, J. (2012). Digital Divide: How Do Home Internet Access and Parental Support Affect Student Outcomes?. Education (Basel) 2:45-53/ DOI:10.3390/educ2010045

Lumb, D. (2013, October 25). How To Build A Low-Cost. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.fastcolabs.com/3020680/how-to-build-a-low-cost-wifi-mesh-network-for-emergency-communication

OECD iLibrary. (2001). Understanding the digital divide

Wheeler, T. (2014, November 20). Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.fcc.gov/blog/closing-digital-divide-rural-america

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