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Shouldn’t Everyone Have Internet Access?

Last week, I shared on the Ask Leo! Facebook page an article from my local Seattle newspaper. It originated in the New York Times with the upshot that, “Roughly 20 percent of American adults do not use the Internet at home, work, school or by mobile device…”

My thought: How do we fix this?

Surprisingly, I got several comments to the effect that it’s not something that needed fixing.

I don’t think I could disagree more.

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Why the internet matters

The internet, and more precisely internet access, has slowly become an important, even critical mechanism to gain access to information and services.

I’m not talking about cat pictures here.

To quote the New York Times:

“Administration officials and policy experts say they are increasingly concerned that a significant portion of the population, around 60 million people, is shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education, and that the social and economic effects of that gap are looming larger.”

It’s no secret that more services are being provided online. Perhaps more importantly, more services are being provided only online. In a world faced with a constant battle to cut costs (particularly in government and social services), online solutions not only make things easier and more accessible to those online, but it can save a lot of money. These organizations no longer have to print and mail as much paper, or provide as many costly in-person services.

The assumption is that everyone who needs the information and services is online.

That’s false.

It’s about more than internet access

It’s as much about computer literacy as it is about being online. Again, quoting The Times:

“The job I’m trying to get now requires me to know how to operate a computer,” said Elmer Griffin, 70, a retired truck driver from Bessemer, Ala., who was recently rejected for a job at an auto-parts store because he was unable to use the computer to check the inventory. “I wish I knew how, I really do. People don’t even want to talk to you if you don’t know how to use the Internet.”

Coincidentally, as I was writing this article, came across my (virtual) desk.

“Every one of us. Everywhere. Connected.”

While my comments are primarily about the approximately 20% of the folks in the United States who can’t or won’t use the internet, is a slightly larger effort.

To connect everyone on the planet.

Yes. Please. Make it so.

Indeed, being able to use a computer at some fundamental level, being able to navigate the internet to a basic degree, has become as fundamental to most jobs as reading, writing, and being able to follow instructions.

That adds to the complexity of this entire discussion.

In fact, there are no less than three separate problems that need to be fixed.

Problem 1: Getting access to everyone who wants it

There are people out there who desperately want internet access1 and they can’t have it. Either they can’t afford the equipment, they can’t afford the monthly fees, or there’s simply no reasonable internet connectivity wherever they might be living.

Solutions here are often hard to find.

The most common solution is to use publicly available internet-connected computers at places such as local libraries.

Another, if you have a portable computer of some sort, is to use free WiFi provided by various institutions ranging from libraries2 to commercial locations, such as local coffee shops.

ISPs and telephone companies often have so called “basic” plans for a reduced rate. Unfortunately, even when available, these plans are often hard to discover and could potentially even require some form of qualification or needs assessment.

Unfortunately, deploying internet to rural and remote areas can be a very costly investment for ISPs and telephone companies. As a result, it’s often a source of much frustration as even those who could afford it are still denied reasonable access.

Fortunately, as we see in truly remote areas of Africa and elsewhere, deploying wireless towers and accompanying mobile or WiMax based data access seems to be an often viable solution.

Problem 2: Providing access to everyone who needs it

“Internet Access”

While in my opinion the ideal form of internet access is a connected computer in the home, “access” can also mean reasonably convenient and affordable access to an internet connected computer elsewhere. The important thing is that you have some kind of internet access and you can use it.

But what if you don’t want internet access?

Honestly … in my opinion, the world is such that today you really need it – whether you want it or not.

As was pointed out in The Times article and elsewhere, people without internet access are often missing out on vital services and information.

That’s unacceptable.

Set aside the more social aspects of internet connectivity, like simply staying connected with email. More and more services are not just adding online access, they’re moving to online access and discarding the more costly offline alternatives.

I’m not saying that this is particularly good or bad.

I’m simply saying that it is.

And, it’s only going to increase.

Complaining about services moving online won’t help. It’s simply going to continue to happen anyway, and quite honestly for a number of reasons that actually do make sense. But whether you consider it good or evil, it’s happening, and you don’t have much control over it.

What you do have is control over your own choices and your own willingness to learn.

Folks who continue to refuse to use even a basic level of internet functionality are going to miss out on more things that fundamentally won’t be optional.

Problem 3: Educating all those that need or want it

Using the internet or computers doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be scary.

And yet many people are intimidated and scared – often to the point of freezing up completely when they approach technology. That makes me sad, because as I said, it doesn’t have to be.

Many will point to any negative news story about an account hack, identity theft, or some other online malicious behavior and be absolutely convinced that this will happen to them the moment they venture online – and then use this as an excuse not to get online.

It’s just not so. “News” is news specifically because it’s uncommon. The more common scenario, the fact that millions of people interact online daily without incident, isn’t news because it’s the norm.
This is how you do it... Once we get past all that fear and other misconceptions, then it becomes a “simple” matter of education. I put “simple” in quotes, because it’s often not, depending on where you live. But it’s important to realize that there are resources – lots of them – for learning how to go online, get what you need to get done, and stay safe while doing it.
One of my favorites is an “internet buddy.” This is a willing friend, contact, or family member who’s far enough ahead of you on the learning curve that you can learn from them, while not so far ahead as to be intimidating. But even so there are classes, online resources and more.

It’s not about age

I don’t get angry easily. It’s not in my personality. I do have to address one common refrain that does make me angry:

“I’m too old.”


Sorry for the language, but sometimes only the right word will do.

And that’s the right word.

I hear that excuse too often. And don’t kid yourself. It is an excuse, nothing more.

I also hear regularly from folks in their 80s and 90s, many of whom are just now getting online and loving it. Folks with exactly zero prior computer experience who are getting online and not only taking advantage of the more-or-less required services that I’ve been talking about, but going further to connect with friends and family and interests and activities around the globe.

“I’m too old” just doesn’t cut it with me.

Attitude. It’s all about attitude. And that, unlike your age, you can change.

Ask Leo! Manifesto

I believe that personally accessible technology is the foundation of humanity’s future. To that end, I teach people to understand and safely use personal computers and related technology so that they can do more, be more, grow more, and connect more than ever before. They can be an active participant in that future. I do that by answering questions, educating on important topics and trends, and sharing my overall passion and excitement for the possibilities.

I’m Leo Notenboom and I have a deep desire to make computers and technology more accessible to the average person – a desire to replace the frustration that you probably feel too often with the sense of amazement and wonder I feel every day.

That’s why Ask Leo! exists.

It’s not about online banking or shopping

“But I don’t want do do my banking online!”

So don’t.

No one is forcing you. Banks are plentiful and accessible. While most now offer online access as a convenient perk, they’re not forcing you to use it. The same is true for shopping; no one is forcing you to do it.

The internet is about much more than banking. Or shopping. Or posting cat pictures. You can do all those things, and much more, but you don’t have to do it.

As I keep saying, one of the reasons I feel so strongly that internet access of some sort is quickly becoming a practical requirement is because of many of the other services that you do need being moved online. Government forms and submissions, information that you need that’s available as a download only3, healthcare information, and so on.

This is the stuff that matters.

This is the reason you need to be online. Now.

This is the reason we need to make it possible and affordable for everyone to be online. Now.

This is what’s only going to get more and more commonplace.

It’s about connecting … with people

The future has begun.

You and I? We’re swimming in it.

Of course, I honestly hope that once folks get online because they “have to,” they’ll start to explore all of the amazing things that they can then access.

Hopefully, the “have to do it” will quickly become a “want to do it.” Perhaps even a “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”4

And for all those that want to, I hope that governments, utilities, communities, and friends will conspire to make it a practical reality.

Anyone who wants to get online should be able to, one way or another.

Do this

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Footnotes & references

1: Honestly, dial-up doesn’t count these days. Broadband of 1.5mbps or better is really what’s required for a reasonable experience and that’s pretty much what I’m referring to here.

2: Libraries are often under appreciated treasure troves of information and support. Even in this digital age, they’re about much more than just books. Unfortunately, libraries are also often under-funded and may not have all the resources available to truly help all that have a need.

3: My focus here is on practicality. Yes, sometimes documents and information are available elsewhere, but the barriers to getting them are so high – be it paperwork or time or simply needing to drive to some office miles away – that they might as well not be available in those alternatives at all.

4: And along with that, “Oh, what a funny cat picture.” :-) Seriously, one of the most underrated benefits from internet connectivity is humor. My days now often start with a good laugh because of the humor I stumble across online.

73 comments on “Shouldn’t Everyone Have Internet Access?”

  1. A brilliant article Leo. I have been preaching the same thing for years to others, especially my brother who, at 85 simply refuses to learn. I myself am 71 years old and I don’t know how I’d exist without the Internet. The volume and value of information available is just mind blowing, not to mention the ease with which one can access online services as you mention.
    Keep trying to convert the masses!

    • I’m right with you all the way Leo ……I am approaching my seventieth year and have no time for the “I’m too old” excuse that many adopt without even exploring the possibility of justifying their reason for using age as a barrier to widening their horizons !
      For the past thirty two years I have been building and repairing computers ….helping and advising those who have had doubts or misgivings about ” dipping their toes ” into the waters , and guiding those who have “taken the plunge ” with what I sincerely hope has always been relatively sound and constructive advice!
      Of all those who were initially apprehensive…not a single one has regretted taking those early tentative steps fact some of them have gone on to help others in the local communities to learn the ropes and enjoy the web ! And in my view …that’s just great !
      When the questions about ” hacking and cyber crime” and all the other negative aspects that are raised as reasons for having doubts about ” going online” …I can only use the analogy that raises the issue regarding ” Do we stop using our cars because other drivers become victims of road traffic accidents ? …No…we take as much care as is humanly possible and exercise as much due care and respect for others as we possibly can ! Same applies to” online activities ” ….in any area of daily life we can only trust that our paths will be a safe ones !
      There are dangers ” out there ” …and human nature is such that there are always those who would seek to cause mischief for others …but my firm belief is that there are far more reasons for a positive view on the web than there are negatives !

    • Not having access should NOT be a problem. For quite a number of years, on my phone bill is a “conectivity” fee. When I asked what I was being charged for, they told me it was a fee for people to get access to the internet (on my/your dime). So tell this to someone who cares. I have been paying long enough. I pay for MY service, therefore, if a person can afford a computer they should pay for their own access. Just saying.
      Then you have the fact that some people just don’t want it.

      • You can use magicjack for phone service if you have a cable internet connection. I used to have a land line with dial up internet. Now I have cable internet and use magicJack for making and receiving calls. I only plug it in when I want to make a call but I can always receive a call. You’ll get an email with an embedded wave file so you can listen to the message through your computer speakers. I still have a prepaid cell phone for emergencies. Now I can stream Netflix through my computer to my TV screen. I file my income taxes on line. There is a lot of information on line. I do not do any banking on line. I use a credit card to buy anything and then pay that bill with a check.

  2. The only things *everybody* needs are air, water, nourishment, and sleep. Everything else is, to one degree or another, optional. Trying to convince people that those who don’t want to be online are wrong is just one more way of telling people who don’t conform that they’re wrong and broken. And do we really need more of that?

    • People also need community, friends and family. In today’s world people also need education and information. And one would hope that people also have a need to contribute and share. Those are all things that are starting to be enhanced with computers. We can only imagine what the next ten years will bring us in innovation, and it would be such a shame to be leaving good people behind.

    • Monica is spot on.
      To imply that everyone “needs” the internet is pure arrogance. The internet is, and will always be, optional.
      This attitude that “big brother knows best” leads ultimately to enslavement. all for our own good.
      The NSA, with the collusion of almost every producer of electronic communications devices, has the ability to record, monitor and analyze virtually all electronic traffic. Orwells “1984” has, indeed, arrived.
      Today, I have to parse my words carefully (even here) to avoid being identified as “a person of interest” by tracking software.
      The thought police have, indeed, arrived in force.

    • Generalizations are generally wrong (including this one?) Seriously, I disagree with the idea that we should not say it is wrong to ignore the Internet. Just as wrong as it was to fail to learn to read and write 50 years ago! Sure, you can tell me stories about illiterate folks who managed to get by. But I can tell you more stories about illiterates who didn’t get a job they needed, and lived a harder life too. So, it ain’t all about “feel good.” Life is about hard realities. Denying them is usually detrimental to ones “pursuit of happiness.”

  3. I’m 26, grew up with internet and do most things online. And it only makes me realise how more we rely on ‘the system’ and the ever increasing need to be educated to get even a basic job. Until the system is failsafe and will never go rogue (like the NSA), we need real life.
    People shouldn’t have to learn a whole new world of computer skills just to reach level 1. I agree that it makes it easier, and I like it, BUT the internet should only ever be a reflection of real life. When it gets beyond this, there are problems. Reality is called reality for a good reason. Now: if we go bankrupt online, we go bankrupt in real life, Possible future: we die online, we die in real life. (in some form)

  4. More and more, vital information is available only, or primarily, on the Internet. Lack of easy access cuts people off from public and private services as well as all kinds of information. Other developed countries have high quality access everywhere. We should, too. If people choose not to use the Internet, fine. But the question is access.

  5. Unfortunately not everyone has sufficient capabilities to grasp technology and use the internet. My mother, in her mid-80’s, wanted to “learn the computer” but was scared of my late father’s desktop PC. So I gave her a Netbook and set things up for her so she could simply click an icon to go to the site she wanted. None of this was intuitive and even sending an email reply successfully remains a challenge 3 years later. She wants to learn but just can’t grasp the concepts. Thanks to TeamViewer I can help her when she gets stuck.
    For people who haven’t grown up with technology, computers and the internet need to be made as simple to operate as a toaster. It’s not just the devices but the websites too. As an ‘advanced’ user who has used, built, maintained and embraced computers (and all forms of tech) since 1968, I still get frustrated by the poor design and implementation of so many websites that look like they’ve been coded by chimpanzees. With my experience I can usually work around those issues but the vast majority – particularly of older people – simply get upset and frustrated and either want nothing more to do with it or restrict themselves to only visiting the very few sites with which they are comfortable.
    So yes, internet access is indispensable in today’s world and offers tremendous benefits to everyone but to become “all inclusive” – particularly to older generations for whom it holds tremendous benefits – it has to get easier for them to use with appliance like simplicity to be effective. Granted, it always has and continues to move in that direction but it has a long way to go.

  6. What are we really talking about here, free wifi. Most if not all major public businesses these days provide a free wifi hotspot, McDonald’s, Walmart, Office Depot, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts., the list goes on and on, now if your talking about the means to access these hotspots, do like me and the other 80% of the population have done and follow three simple steps:
    1. Stay in School
    2. Get a job
    3. Save up the money to buy your own stuff and stop asking people to give it to you. Its called the inititive to survive and thrive, either you have it or you don’t I am so fed up with the pandering to the 1, 10, or even 20%. 80% of the world, (not the US alone) is living on less than $2.50 a day, and the New York rag is beating their chest over not enough people on the internet, no doubt spured on by their drop in online readership. When no one is hungry and thirsty, then we can look at providing free Wi-fi.

  7. I agree…”Anyone who wants to get online should be able to, one way or another.”

    I am internet and computer savvy. I am also 60 years old and am a electrical designer with a manufacturing company. I don’t bank on-line because most financial companies are not forth-coming when they are hacked and information is compromised. Frequently the only time these institutions ARE forthcoming is because of media stories. I am well aware that my identity could be stolen by anyone in the post office or the end recipient. However that doesn’t change the fact that even with all the encryption methods information on-line still is stolen.

    Some older people (and younger folks as well) simply do not trust computers. They are not afraid of the technology. They simply aren’t convinced of its infallibility. They have had medical prescriptions or bills hopelessly mangled by “the computer systems”. And remember how it used to be, when things were done by hand (And there may have been many errors by that method as well). Most of these folks are comfortable with the digital age in their cars, have cell phones, reap the benefits of new technologies in medicine, media and the like.

    So it is not necessarily a matter of education or an ignorant attitude. A case in point (And I realize not a typical case) My father-in-law helped to implement the computerization of the US Air Force logistical system in the 50 and 60’s. He was trained in the programming of the hardware and frequently needed to trouble shoot the system to make sure nothing went wrong that could compromise the security of those systems. He is extremely intelligent and certainly nobodies fool. But he doesn’t own or use a computer.

    Also you have an excellent website.

  8. As an older guy of 73 and fully internet qualified quit telling the old people what you think they need from your young points of view. How do you think they got old? Second, do not let the Administration hear you talking about this and mentioning cost or it will all turn out like the Free Phone Deal. Of course it is not free “we” pay for it! If you want to do something create $100 laptops that will get you internet and email. Cheaper modems and routers. There is nothing cheap in the computer/internet world, especially if you are only on SS.

  9. Great article Leo! I agree that everyone should have access to the internet. It’s sad when I hear someone say “I’m too old,” or “I can’t afford it.” I’m 60 and bought my first computer about 12 years ago, but it’s been in recent years that I signed up for “online statements” and pay bills online. This will reduce paper and I want to help save a few trees! :)

    • SUE, you ought to be SUEd for believing all the environmental crap that you have been indoctrinated into believing. Cutting trees is what my wife’s company does for a business.
      The owners of her company are the largest private property owners in America. They have more than a million and a half acres of timber lands in the Western U.S. They have a company policy of planting 7 trees for every one they cut down. Every company that is in the tree business plants more trees than they cut down. They have to. They must consider a growing population, forest fires, and disease. Even with the odds as high as they are, our country has more than twice as many trees than we did at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

      I will be 70 years old this coming January. I have been using computers for about 30 years. I spend a lot of time on the computer doing editing for people. I have a friend who is 93 years old and I taught her to use the computer some 25 years ago. Over the years she has continued to lose her ability to do what she used to do easily. That happens when you get older. Your mind is not as sharp and for most people their minds can’t keep up with the constant evolution of computers, OSes, and all the other changes that come every time they turn around. It’s often overwhelming.

      Leo, I disagree with you that everyone needs to have a computer. Life used to be simpler. Older people live in that simplicity. You, on the other hand, grew up in a different time. Less personalization, more mechanization. This generation has lost touch with living life as our older generation knew. It is your loss. Find two rocker chairs, sit with a friend for several hours, sharing, and you will see what I mean. I miss sitting with my great-grandfather and listening to him talk about the late 1800s and the times he fought off Indians from raiding livestock and how people he knew who grew up with him became bandits in Central Texas.

      After 30 years, I can’t wait to be able to hit the off button for the last time. Computers can be as addicting to people as the TV. I would like to have the thousands of hours I have had to spend on the computer doing editing and put it into something I can show for my time. I look forward to sitting in my rocker sharing my life’s experiences with anyone who “has time” from their world of computers.

      • I actually didn’t say that everyone needs a computer. I said that everyone should have access to the internet. Two different things. The later is becoming more and more critical as services move on line. The former is simply one way to potentially make it easier.

        As for having something I can show for all the time I put into my computing … I do believe you’re reading it. (Among a few other things.)

      • Kitty Hawk thanks for setting me straight…deforestation must be a figment of my imagination. Whenever I see a development where they razed thousands of trees and put up a few new homes or other buildings, I’ll think of you and your wife.

        • Little do most people UNDERSTAND about this is information systems, the very systems that holds all the data to transfer our information over these online programs actually uses electricity to transfer it so the theory of saving the trees is essentially invalid as the information systems used to go paperless saves the world.

          • Advances in renewable energy are reducing the environmental cost of producing electricity. I believe cutting down trees and the process of making paper does more environmental damage than the electricity it takes to get your news and books electronically.

  10. No one has the right to internet access or healthcare for that matter and even if they did it does not therefore obligate others to pay for it, i.e. become slaves toiling for another spending their labor and effort to funnel to a bureaucrat so they can buy favors with the public treasury. We are just going further down the Marxist Socialist road. You have the “right” to the internet if you can pay for it yourself. You don’t have the right to rob another for the means to pay for the internet or alternatively insist or use the government to rob another of said means to pay for your internet which accomplishes the same ends but is legalized theft, i.e. using the government instead of a gun, you don’t go to prison. Socialism is the sins of covetousness and envy. It is also the sin of greed for the bureaucrat who uses such to buy votes and favor to keep themselves in office. One can make all kinds of claims as to WHY everyone must have the internet, but to steal from another to provide it to all is wickedness & sin. Sin, i.e. a word most people don’t give a flying leap about anymore these days.

    • I’m not sure why this got political. Nowhere did I imply the kinds of things you seem to be commenting on. It’s a complex problem, to be sure, my point is simply that it should be solved.

      • Some people are so one-demensional Leo, that just mentioning a word like “peanut butter” can set them off. I actually pity people like graycoat for their limited ability with nuanced thinking. Just configure your server software to ignore its IP address and we can all move on.

        • You can get Free Internet at home, dial up for 10 hours a month is more than enough for applications, any more or high speed should always have a fee, why should some get a free ride and I have to pay for the same thing. I am against Welfare, too. The ones I see do not want to work, but can.

          • I actually used free Netzero dialup for the first my first few years of internet access, and rationed my time accordingly to fit those 10 hours/month. But have you actually tried to load webpages using dialup these days? It’s faster to take a bus to the site’s server.
            On the other hand, while lack of internet access is becoming more and more a hardship, you can learn basic computer skills without internet access.

          • One trick to slow loading sites is, if you can figure out the URL, to visit the mobile version of the site if there is one. Often its the same content, but smaller/faster and sometimes with fewer ads and larger print.

  11. Good for you, Leo! What you say about the need to be able to use the Internet is absolutely true. I’m 70 years old now and started using computers and the Internet about 15 years ago. I enjoy it and what it can do to make my world, and my local area, bigger, closer, better, and more convenient for me. (I’m a bit lazy, so I don’t know everything about the Internet, but I still learn new things about the Internet that I want to know, from time to time.) It’s like when I first got a Tinker Toy Set for Christmas back in the 1950’s when I was about six years old. I had never used them before and it was fun to see how the things worked and what I could do with them. I also liked looking at television a lot when it became available. The Internet is like that: Tinker Toys and Television. There are many things you can do with it, some easy and some a little more difficult, but the neat thing is that you don’t have to learn everything, just what you want to learn. It’s like playing with Tinker Toys and watching TV when I was a kid. And I don’t have to learn anything that I don’t want to learn. Like Tinker Toys as a kid, it helps to have someone you know so you can ask questions, or help figure out what went wrong. Yes, things will go wrong with a computer or the Internet, even for the best of the computer specialists. But it’s fixable, and it doesn’t happen all the time. Like baseball or life, it takes some practice. You don’t have to know it all, just the things you want to know. And you don’t have to learn everything all at once, but it’s a nice thing to have in your toolbox when you want it, like an adjustable wrench.

  12. There is aproblem with the original question. It states “do not use the Internet”.
    This is NOT the same as “cannot access”.
    I know several people who CHOOSE NOT to use the internet.

    • Yes, that’s why I tried to separate out distinct problems. Ultimately everyone needs to keep the right to choose. However they must make those choices fully cognizant of what they are choosing not to have access to (more and more online-only services) – each side of that choice has a cost.

      Related but separate is that everyone who wants to get online should have that capability somehow.

  13. One thing left completely out of this discussion is the youth of today, though they are top of the heap in Internet savvy, they are near the bottom on computer savvy. I don’t know how prevalent it is but it’s certainly a developing issue. All sorts of real business skills requiring proficiency with a real computer are going by the wayside just as readily as some elderly folks refusing to learn basic computer skills and how many term papers or online job applications can be filled out on a smart phone?

  14. Excellent analysis. But in a way I agree with others that it is not a problem that needs to be fixed. As you point out this is where we are going and you should not be surprised if you are left behind because you choose not to participate. Many of us complain that things were better in the good old days. I know that I can survive without Air conditioning, Garage door openers, dishwashers, Color digital TV, and the Internet because I did survive without them but I would rather not try. Things were better in the past because I was younger then and had a different view not because they really were better.

    People have 3 options, Lead, Follow, or get out of the way because it is happening and it up to us to decide how to deal with it. You told us why. People can make up their minds which path they will take. But it will happen with or without them.

  15. Leo: I agree with you, and just wanted to add a different aspect. I am a bankruptcy attorney and have seen hundreds of people over the last six years who have lost their job and do not know how to get another one that pays enough to live on. I tell them to do three things: Learn Excel; learn Spanish; and do a lot of volunteer work. Most of these people use the Internet already, but I almost never hear anyone get excited about my suggestions. What we need both the Internet and curiosity. They go together.
    Also, considering that everyone who reads you column is already on the Internet, and got to your column by curiosity, I think some of the comments ar a bit ironic.

  16. I agree whole-heartedly with your assessment. Many people are too stubborn to learn something new, and others are too paranoid to try this “new-fangled internet.” But for those of us who love living far from the maddening metropolis, high-speed access is “iffy” at best. My ISP has recently DOWNGRADED my service to a mind-numbing 765 kbps download (maximum) – and I’m usually dragging along at half that speed. WiMax and Satellite service are available, but prohibitively expensive – and those who have it say it is unreliable and customer service is deplorable. How about giving us a review (or pointing to a trustworthy review) of satellite, wireless, and WiMAX services?

    • One of the problems with that kind of review is that the landscape is constantly changing.

      I’m in the same situation you are – the only DSL available at my location is that same 768k/128k service. (Long story, but it’s a side effect of being one of the first neighborhoods to have DSL – now we have ancient equipment.) There’s no cable in my neighborhood. WiMax (Clearwire Pro) was a reasonable solution for me until Sprint purchased Clear and discontinued the Pro service – I just got kicked offline on Saturday. (I’m back with “baling wire and twine” while I investigate alternatives – running a business complicates my equation.)

      Almost all wireless solutions are so heavily dependent on your specific location that a general analysis is often useless. WiMax works well for me because I’m line-of-site to the local tower/node. My neighbor across the street? It’s barely better than the base DSL we talked about above.

      My only recommendation in general is to examine the offerings and coverage maps for your specific location. If you have more than one alternative, then you can start comparing reputation, price, features and so on.

  17. Leo, you idea is wrong for some people. My motherwho was 96 when she passed away asked me several times how she could learn to speak internet. Before you say everyone needs to know how to use the internet try teaching some elderly persons how. I once heard an elderly man describe what he thought of computers and the internet as being told to walk down an unknown dark wooded path that, and everyone telling him that if he makes one mistake he could loose everything he has. We have TV commercials and shows constantly talking about identity theft that scare the average internet user into buying a product, what do you think this does to a person who doesn’t know what a computer really does or how to use it.
    Most cities have a few classes for seniors but will never reach all, and it is still a free country I think. I tried to teach many elderly, some learned enough to play games and send e-mail once they got over the fear that they would harm the computer beyond repair which is their worst fear. Older persons like myself have a problem remembering and as you age it is natural for most. With the rapid changes taking place in the computer world there is no way most can keep up.
    I know there are readers who will read this and say why dont the old people just fade away, this country really sinking when there are people who really think that way.

    • I don’t think most feel that way (and I know that I don’t).

      I agree that the “scare” message promoted by both television shows and advertisements does us all a great disservice in educating people on the reality – a reality that is nowhere near as trivially compromised as the cop shows make it out to be, and nowhere near as risky as that walk through the dark woods would make it seem.

      If anything that’s all the more reason for people like you and I who understand the real issues, and the real magnitude, and perhaps most of all the real benefit, to be reaching out to more people to counteract all the misguided misinformation that’s out there.

  18. Dear leo,

    First, thank you – many of your articles have helped me. You are so right – everyone should have affordable access to broadband – it has become a necessity.

    However, subsidizing those who cannot afford the monthly fee once they have the required equipment, are out of luck if Comcast is the ISP – Comcast does offer $10/mo access to students if they qualify by being on some assistance program but to no other customers – so seniors or any person on a program must pay Comcast their going rate once the promo rate expires.

    What we need is a national movement by voters who will force their elected officials to adopt a formal requirement/public policy for all ISP’s to provide broadband to qualified residents of all ages in their respective areas such as the $10/mo program for students who qualify – many of the owners are billionaires and since the offering would be negligible additional marginal cost and deductible expense, how they could object is beyond me and the goodwill generated by performing this public service would be huge and more than makeup for any costs incurred – goodwill is something advertising cannot buy.
    Again many thanks and please keep writing the articles.


  19. Dear Leo, I am 76 years young. I have been using computers since IBM
    first came out with the PS2. There most important thing is Navigation.
    First you need to learn how to use your systems software like Windows 7.
    Next you must navigate around your “Browsers” software like
    Once you get online you need to learn to search the web (navigation).
    Then there are the specialized programs that run out of Windows.
    Learn Microsoft Excel and any of the other Microsoft Office programs.
    Then learn the other special programs your employer may have.
    The employer must give future employees at least one week of
    on the job training. I defy you to walk into a workplace and sit down
    at a computer to find a part number, location and all the information
    on your first try. You must be trained to do this. Thanks

  20. Great article, Leo. Even greater comments. I even liked the one you thought was political. (Greycoat)
    I am 84 years old and have had a computer since 2005 and love it but I could live without it. By saying that, I mean everyone does not need a computer and/or internet service. However I believe they should be able to get internet service if they want it as long as I don’t have to pay extra for my services just so someone else can get it, as I do with my telephone service. (There is a charge on my AT&T telephone bill that helps pay for telephone services for those that can’t afford it.)

  21. I completely agree that Internet access should be available to people who want it. However, I think you have an inflated idea of how many people want it.

    Here’s a quote from the Conference Board of Canada: “Four out of ten Canadian adults have literacy skills too low to be fully competent in most jobs in our modern economy.” If you take the lower half of that group — or 20% of adults — you’re looking at people whose literacy skills are so poor that they will get slight benefit from Internet access. These are people who need help filling out government forms — and having the forms online won’t make them any easier to fill out.

    I’m suggesting that “free WiFi” is the wrong starting point for the most disadvantaged in our society. Free “learn to read” is more to the point.

  22. I didnt read all the comments but I did see a pattern, and could they making this pattern be close to my age?? mid60s.That pattern is nothing more than poor excuses!!! Anyone can use a puter! The artical is spot on.I live in rural Minnesota had dial up because thats all that was offered!! I did become discusted with the time it took for a connection to a site!! I learned anyway.I been a member and reader of ask Leo for years, and the help I found here made my day!! it got me to push further and learn more computer skills.Leo you have moved away from your earlier days!! of helping the newcomers. it seems the questions are more complicated then your answers follow that complication,The basics have been lost.Still a great site but for beginners my assumption is they are over their heads just reading any Ask Leo articals.

  23. Back in the 80’s when PC’s were just getting started I would understand why someone in their 70′-90’s would not want to bother learning computer. But now since they have become a mainstay in everyday life for the last 35yrs , older people should already know how to use computers. I remember having to learn basics on a computer at a home improvement center in 86 just to keep track of inventory. Those computers had the green screen with basic info. Almost all jobs now days a computer is in use. Even in your fast food business the cashier just pushes the picture of the burger.

    • It’s not just those in their 70s – 90s. I frequently encounter people under 40 that have no clue of how to use a computer. Many of those who do know, only know the basics. In the early 1990s I was teaching 1st and 2nd graders how to use computers, so I find it very hard to comprehend how so many younger people, who grew up with computers, don’t know how to use them.

      Personally, I think one of the big reasons mobile devices, like Smart phones, are so popular is that they allow people quick social contact (texting, e-mail, etc.) without having to know how to use a full-fledged computer. Of course, portability also plays a role, but for many that is secondary.

  24. It is the role of governments to provide or assist to source needs of then population. If internet access is as you say a must have as you say, then the government needs to aid the supply of it to all. This goes against the creed in America where selfish greed based user pays mentality has obliterated all empathy and caring from the population. So do not hold your breath a for a solution. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Trust and all other “tech billionaires” could donate to solve the problem quickly, but they always look at what’s in it for them before a single cent is donated.
    People’s free choice is the absolute corner stone of a free country. To badger anyone into doing something or stop doing something which is legal and just is the start of the slide to despotism. You do not NEED internet access if you live a organic sustainable environmental lifestyle. And when the current civilisation grinds to a screeching halt because we ignored all the signs of Planet abuse and resource scarcity, and the internet will be but a memory they will the people who are best prepared to survive.
    One of the founders of the internet wanted it to be free for all. Greed has seen that goal killed off. Many people are appalled by the greed in our society and don’t want a bar of it. Who can blame them.

  25. It is not the governement’s role to do this. When one gets something for “free” another has to pay for so when someone has to pay another gets to have without working. We already have so many programs to help out “disavantaged” citizens… school lunches, graded tax system, food stamps, emergency room care, etc, etc…, etc… Where does it end. 90% of millionaires are self-made and do not inherit their money.

    There is a distinction between “rights” and “privaledges”. We have a right to not have someone take something from us when we worked to purchase it, but we don’t have a right to have certain things for free. That is not what our founding Fathers envisioned. I would absolutely disagree with giving these things for free. The government should provide protection (military), roads, police protection, and a clean environment but they should not provide, free cell phones and internet access. It is not required to live. Besides folks can go to the library or local schools if they really need to get on the internet.

  26. I have been a techie for more than 50 years and things today are more than things that we dreamed about many years ago. An old saying ” When you stop looking you’re dead :) also learning applies. AMEN

  27. Interesting article, but a bit one sided, I think. I have a number of relatives who do not have computers, telephones, cars, or even electricity. They do not have health care, or insurance of any kind. They believe that to have these things will tie them into a world system that they are not interested in. If they need something that is only found on the internet, they have the means to hire someone to get it for them. They go to bed when it is to late to work and get up with the sun. They are healthy and happy and are not suffering. While most of us would not want to emulate their lifestyle, why would we tell them they need to change? They are happier than many of the people around who have internet. Do we really want to create a world that has no place for people like this?

  28. Leo,

    As you pointed out, there are two aspects: desire and availability.

    There are those who have access to high-speed Internet, but don’t want to use it for various reasons. That’s their choice, and they should be aware of the possible consequences – just like everything else in life.

    On the other hand, there are many who want high-speed Internet, but it’s not available. Most of the commenters here seem to think everyone can easily get access, or readily drive someplace where it is available. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are large, less inhabited areas in the USA that do not have broadband access. Many, such as the mountain areas in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana can’t get WiFi, and satellite is unreliable at best. Many other areas now don’t even have access to TV, let alone broadband. According to a report I read a couple of years ago, some areas are still using party-line phone service. These people would be willing to pay for the service – if it were available. Then there are pockets in metropolitan areas that don’t get decent broadband – such as where you live. Cable broadband was all around my area for more than two years before it was available where I live.

    In today’s economy there are many people whose income is just above poverty level. They don’t qualify for any sort of aid, but can’t afford more than simple shelter and basic food. They would have to walk to the library – which could be several miles away – to try to access a computer.

    As you mentioned, the problem is very complex, and there is no single quick-fix. Since we don’t live in a moneyless world, there is always the problem of who pays for any possible solution. If providers raise their prices, they risk losing customers. If the government pays, there will be an increase in taxes. If the users pay for it, there will be some who can’t afford it. Add to that all the technical problems associated with our varied geographic layout.

    Identifying the problem is much easier than trying to find viable solutions.

    • Yes indeed – and you’ll notice all I did here was identify the problem. But that, too, was purposeful – to shed greater light on the issue, and encourage the discussion that needs to follow the awareness.

  29. Come on people. Someone struggling to get out of poverty needs two things, food and education. The Internet provides one of those. Subsidized Internet is so inexpensive I cannot imagine why we should begrudge it. The Internet itself started with a government subsidy. I did not have to invent anything. I just plugged in, and it made my life better. Give more, judge less, be grateful.

  30. We now live in a very dynamic world, everything is not only moving too fast but also changing rapidly. Its all about cost. Everybody should have access to the internet. The trouble is that internet for all cannot become a reality because its business, People want to make money out of it, unless if we have more players who provide internet services then it may become affordable to all.

  31. I work with a ministry that helps women find jobs and helps prepare them for jobs. In today’s world the job search is on-line. Applications are on-line. Plus your statement that almost all employers require at least minimal computer skills is correct. So Internet access is key is getting hired. Fortunately, the public library has computers, but this is not convenient for those who have transportation issues. Lack of Internet access helps keep the poor unemployed from finding jobs.

  32. i am replying to the person who said that for every tree they cut down they plant 7 new ones. well in old growth forest there were about 7 different species of trees per. acre . now in this world of greed i can Imagen that in a few years we will have a lot of trees that are pulp trees the kind you make paper from …my thoughts

  33. Great article, Leo. I have read several responses, and my collective take on all this is a person needs to sort of pick and choose what technology they will embrace. My favorite form of communication is e-mail. I don’t like Facebook, just too cumbersome, so I don’t do it and I don’t like the “feel” of my loss of privacy, whether legitimate or not. But now I am learning how to text which at first was quite laborious, but I have learned how to “txt” to make it quicker. A lot of people I know respond immediately to a text, but not to a phone call or e-mail. I remember when I was a kid, I would spend hours on the phone, now I dread it when the phone rings!

  34. Wow Leo! After reading your post and reading some of the answers, looks to me like a huge can of unexpected ‘worms’ came out. Hahahaha

    There is no doubt that the Internet should be made available for everyone. And it is up to each individual as to whether they want to venture into the world of cyberspace.

    Unfortunately, people are peculiar creatures. You may have stumbled on a delicious food that you’re dying to share with others, only to find their reluctance to trying something…new. But, once they taste it there will always be some that like it and others that don’t. Regardless, the availability should be provided just in case someone should change their mind and decide to take that leap of ‘tasting’ something they may actually find advantageous in their life. :)

    To live in fear of the unknown however, is non-productive.

    There is good and bad in ‘everything.’ You just have to be careful of where you step. :)

    Thank you for being a very caring man. You are very much appreciated.

    • I always keep in mind that all of this technology we are using (internet, email, cellphones, Facebook, etc.) is in its infancy. The past 2 decades are a flash in the evolving timescale of human invention. It’s no wonder that it’s a little crazy during this gold rush. That’s why I agree with Leo that the best attitude is just to keep up… and do it with a sense of wonder and fun! When you think about where we could possibly go in the next ten years it makes it all the more critical to make sure that the whole population has access, because it is literally an access to education and wealth.

  35. Data point – FWIW:
    I’m retired and spend some time running the local bridge club’s website and contacts list. The demographic is typically well educated, retirement age and above. The contacts all have phone numbers and/or email addresses. Of ~500 contacts, ~400 have email. 20% without, again.
    Many retirees simply are content with their lives without computers.
    Of course, this will change over time.

  36. there is another problem that needs to be solved first
    a> malware, spyware, phishing, identity theft, fake sites etc.

    this needs to be solved first before any government service forces me to online only
    face it of the people who don’t have access, if they were to suddenly have this access they would be prime targets for the crooks

    if they’ve never been to the social security web site before how would they know they were on the correct site and not on a fake site?

    a lot of people who’ve been using the web for years still get suckered into scams or fake pages etc.

    solve those problems first before forcing everyone to online only services

    • Those problems haven’t been solved for “old” technologies like telephone and mail and more … and yet we still use those. I think waiting for those to be “solved” will have you waiting for ever. What’s more important is the education that’s necessary to stay safe – and that applies to both old and new technologies alike.

  37. I’m just plain tired of 20% of the population dictating the actions of the other 80%. I’m sure that there are those within the 20% who legitimately care about having the MEANS to access the internet. To me that is a local issue and should be resolved as such, through private or local government actions. The are many working PC’s capable of being recycled locally, each and every day, that could be used in accessing the internet. But when you’re asking someone in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Texas, and Oklahoma, etc, to fund an optional benefit for those in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, etc., through a national program; You’re asking too much! If you’re truly concerned with this issue, contact your local place of worship or community help organization and take your checkbook with you. Spend your own money – not that of somebody else. Plus, ask yourself which of the current national government social programs are administered with any kind of efficiency? They are all examples of waste, fraud, excesses, and a burgeoning of the size and budgets of the agencies that were charged with their administration. God bless the USA and may we survive as a country.

  38. “Libraries are often under appreciated treasure troves of information and support. Even in this digital age, they’re about much more than just books. Unfortunately, libraries are also often under-funded and may not have all the resources available to truly help all that have a need.”

    And that’s because of one of the reasons Leo mentioned: Governments have decreasing amount of funds to spend. They won’t spend money on libraries if people don’t use the library.

    People say, “Who needs a library in the digital age.” Well, Leo brings up some very good points for why we need libraries. For those who need accessibility and to learn how to use the technology.

    Fortunately for us, the Hamilton Public Library (Ontario) is ahead in this area. Yes, they still provide traditional library services, but they are finding ways to devote more of their funds to technology services. They have a lot of public access computers and free WI-FI in every branch and you can even sign up for classes to learn to use a computer, surf the internet, use Word and Excel. They have a large collection of e-books available for download as well as music. And they recently launched digital streaming for movies, TV, music, and audio books (a new service I’m going to have to check out).

    If your library doesn’t offer these things, ask them to start and start using your library so they keep getting funding.

  39. You have put my thoughts in words. I was thinking that in advance countries like US the situation will be different than India but it seems that is the same. Many of your articles voice of feelings. Can you write something more on advanced security and internals about systems?

  40. There’s a lot of things I could comment about in this article, but one thing I just had to say is about footnote #1, that being dial-up internet. For all of my computer-using years all I have had at home is my trusty dial-up internet (it’s what I’m using now as a matter of fact). The issue isn’t the price of new service or the “fear” of changing over, it’s the availability of new service (or the lack of it). I am a young adult who starts college soon pursuing a degree in a computer field. I’ll admit I’m no computer genius, but I seem to know my fair share of computer knowledge. I’ve taken 2 years worth of computer courses (while also enrolled in high school) and have some entry-level certifications to show for it. Many times my home internet connection was limiting me in my classes. Sometimes it was software that I simply couldn’t download due to size, videos I couldn’t watch, materials I couldn’t view, etc etc. Needless to say I had to get very crafty in how I utilized my time at school at and at other places where broadband was available. If it weren’t for my efforts and my helpful, understanding instructors I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.

    My point in all of this is that I’m very glad you brought up the point of accessibility to good internet service. Just recently our area became eligible for high-speed internet (the highest available download speed being ~15Mbps) and well…..I simply couldn’t be happier. Soon, gone will be my days of using dial-up internet. I hope people don’t forget that there are still areas where high-speed internet isn’t yet available for one reason or another. I would love to see the day when internet access (a good connection like you mentioned) is available to all. The Internet has greatly changed my life and I hope that someday the opportunities that it provides will be available for all.

  41. Great article – and a fascinating array of comments.

    Access to the adequate internet across the USA has 2 issues. First, availability is spotty. Both you and those who have sent comments address this well. Second, high speed access is incredibly overpriced – for what is offered.

    The overpricing of Internet access has been widely discussed, and reported in the press. We pay multiples of the amount that residents of most other countries pay for equivalent service. (See NY Times articles and OpEd pieces on this during the past summer.) While most utility services in USA are regulated, somehow data services seem to be unregulated. In many areas, there is little or no real competition, and hence high prices with relatively poor service. Meanwhile, the service providers are enjoying record profit levels.

    For example – in my North East US metro-suburban area the least expensive cable data service is over $500 per year, supposedly 4Mhz, except the rate is a teaser only good for 6 months. They don’t publish what the rate will be after 6 months. $500 a year is a big hit for someone on Social Security, etc. And, cable goes down several time each month. The least expensive service delivered by phone is about $150/year but is dial up. But, telephone land lines almost never go down here. In much of Europe, one can get high speed service but for the lower cost

    I generally believe less government is better government, but I don’t believe our profit driven internet services ever will provide reasonable rates and good service unless government intervenes. Competition will not drive prices down because there are no real competitors. Competition alone will certainly not provide widespread access. But I also do not believe we should give support or subsidies or tax credits to users, as that only incentivizes the providers to keep their prices high, and service low.

    Unfortunately, that means government regulation. There is historical precedent for this – providing electricity throughout the USA. Through government action, satisfactory electric service was made available to all (they don’t have to use it), and prices were kept in check. And the electric providers have been a safe and profitable business/investment for decades.

    Maybe this should be al Gore’s next challenge.

    • You’re right John. Availability is spotty. In MA I am paying 65 per month with a bundle for 50 mbps down and 10 up. I’m happy with that. The 65 per month is the internet portion of the bill.

      Unfortunately in our town there is only one provider that can provide that kind of speed so there is no competition which is not a good thing.

      I think that we need standards for speed and for availability. The internet providers need to take the good and the bad. If they come into a town, they should be required to serve everyone in that town.

  42. I agree, internet is a necessity, I can’t imagine being without it. One thing that I find frustrating is that the internet providers are not required to provide service to everyone in a town that they serve. I am dealing with a few locations now where I am trying to get cable internet but the cable company says it’s too expensive to wire the plaza. I don’t think that should be allowed. We presently have DSL but it’s only 1mbps. The provider is incompetent and when I called them up to inquire about pair bonding, they didn’t know what I was talking about. At another location, I have 18 mbps DSL using pair bonding. Works great and it’s not very expensive. I think that the cable company should either wire everyone in town or get out and let another company come in that is willing to give everyone service. Same with DSL, put the equipment out in the field so that service is available to everyone. In Maine, NH, and VT, Fairpoint is putting equipment out in the field and is bringing DSL to people who were never able to get it. I’ll give them credit for that. But there are still places without DSL or cable. Fortunately none of the locations that I am dealing with are quite that bad although I do have a couple of locations that have only 1 mbps DSL.

  43. “Having the internet at home” is wedged in a strange place, I feel.
    Almost every retail outlet / business / manufacturer / government body assumes that everyone HAS internet at home – but, in the UK at least, the ISP’s still consider it a luxury and charge appropriately.
    Some people (like me) cannot afford to be connected 24/7, yet an increasing number of products need regular updates, or even constant access, before they work correctly. It is as if the internet has become a ‘lazy fix’ for anything you buy – be it software, consoles, even TV’s and DVD / Blu-Ray players.

  44. I agree that everyone can benefit greatly from Internet Access. However please don’t preach that it should be some sort of Basic Human Right and that maybe this should be provided free of charge through some Government Program to those who can’t afford it. Everyone can benefit greatly from a Car but not everyone can afford one. That does not mean we go out and give everyone a Car. Everyone can benefit greatly from a College education but again that does not mean we go out and give everyone a free ride through College. Everyone can benefit by owning a home but again we don’t go out and give everyone a house. Sometimes its better to leave some things as Wants to Drive people to better themselves and leave something to aspire to. However again in the end it may be that some people don’t want it. And that’s their loss. We can not and should not force it upon them.

  45. The pursuit of an idyllic world where any and every person would possess the skills and knowledge and could afford the infrastructure that is required such that the internet becomes an ubiquitous facet of human life is indeed a noble cause, but why should it ever be when there are many who starve to death each day, who lack proper drinking water, who face extremely limited recourse to address severe medical conditions, genetic and otherwise, who are oppressed by “undemocratic” governance. I quote the word undemocratic because it seems that even so-called democratic countries like mine (Canada) and yours (United States) often act in ways that defy the notion of democracy.

    It seems to me at least, there is a huge problem with priorities, even in our countries of affluence. I suggest a majority of the 20% you mention as lacking the internet, also lack that most basic convenience, the telephone!

    The only thing I would endorse in your article is the “bullshit” response to the “I am too old” attitude!


  46. It looks like many in Europe have the same idea as Leo on this.
    Here’s an article from the TAZ newspaper in Germany which I (roughly) translated.

    “Internet is a civil right “
    The free wireless initiative aims to make free Wi-Fi available everywhere
    TAZ: Mr. Gutowski , in the center of Hamburg , Deutsche Telekom offers public Wi-Fi , in Pforzheim, there is a similar offer from regional companies. Can the free wireless provider do better than a private company ?
    Reiner Gutowski: We can do it differently. Our power is in the hands of the citizens and not in those of a large company.
    What’s the difference?
    For example, we do not collect any data. It is an open network in which everyone can participate. Our goal is to make WiFi available everywhere. In the end, internet is a civil right. And Germany is lagging way behind other countries. In Scandinavia, for example, there is wide coverage, at least in urban areas. But what we often forget is that free wireless is not simply Wi-Fi Internet access. It is also a kind of local citizens’ network, independent from the Internet. Since people can share content, you can connect to a Facebook alternative – so basically what they want to do is implement a policy in response to NSA surveillance at a national or European level or even just locally.
    But those who participate must also bear some costs?
    Yes, but not much. We think it’s important that people with little money are able participate. The only requirement is a router which you can get for 20 euros .
    An Internet connection is not necessary?
    No. For example, it’s like putting a wireless router in your home to share your internet connection with someone in the neighboring building who has no internet connection, your router would detect their router and connect them to the Internet .


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