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Capitol Crimes     Is God Green?     The Net at Risk

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US vs. world in connectivity
THE NEW DIGITAL DIVIDE

In April 2006, John E. Peterson, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and co-chairman of the Congressional Rural Caucus, sent a letter to THE NEW YORK TIMES in response to an article about how the ''digital divide'' between rich and poor Americans-who just a decade earlier had lagged far behind their counterparts in access to the Internet-was quickly closing.

In his letter, Rep. Peterson pointed out that while admirable progress had been made, "a different digital divide continues to persist today between rural and urban Americans … A recent study found that fewer than one in four rural Americans have access to broadband. Those of us who live in rural America know that's an inflated estimate. And those of us with access know we can expect to pay as much as $100 a month for the luxury."

What difference does broadband access make? Rep. Peterson argued, as have many other Internet watchers, that "lack of broadband leads to a lack of access to information, which leads to fewer economic opportunities, which leads to lower incomes, which leads to fewer broadband options. If equal access and opportunity are what our society seeks to provide, perhaps it's time we work to close the real digital divide before it swallows a large section of our country." But according to many Internet technology experts, the urban-rural divide is only one aspect of what appears to be America's declining status in the global arena of Internet access-a decline that could have serious implications for our economic and technological future.

Bill Moyers' "The Net @ Risk" explains why America lags so far behind the rest of the industrialized world in broadband access to the Internet. Industry watchdogs say it is a history of broken promises to bring the "information superhighway" to every U.S. home and business. Once a technology leader in the Internet revolution, the United States has fallen into the teens in the world rankings of Internet access for its citizens. In some places-among them Japan, Iceland, Korea, and the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia-consumers get Internet connections that are significantly more powerful than what is available in the U.S. for the same price most Americans pay. Why? For one, they're using fiber-optic technology-the future of communications-while America is stuck with the same copper wires that connected Samuel Morse's telegraph and Alexander Graham Bell's telephone in the 19th century. Critics say that the telecom industry promised consumers just such a wireless system in the 1990s…but never delivered.

"America's screwed," says Bruce Kushnick, a telecom analyst. "I mean, we basically are becoming technologically deficient. We're close to the dinosaurs compared to what these other countries are going to be developing in the next couple years."

Find out more about the technology and politics behind this new digital divide and join the discussion in the MOYERS ON AMERICA Digital Divide Citizens Class.

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