Monday, 23 May 2005

Digital Divide, an update

My first post about digital divide pointed out that I did not believe there would ever be a satisfactory solution to equality in terms of digital access to information and resources.

Although theoretically, digital information can be reproduced at marginally zero cost, the access to these bits and bytes still depends on physical equipment which must be produced at a cost with a finite production capacity. Hence my argument was that there will always be differences in different stages of availability at different communities.

Chasing the Dragon's Tale has a post asking what "If computers become inexpensive, really inexpensive..." and raises the issue of power even if computers are in the price range (about AUD400) of current mobile phones.

I did a bit of search on the average power consumption of PC and would happy to settle at 220W (150W for the desktop computer + 70W for the monitor). The cost of providing such power to remote area using alternate energy source (say solar panel) would be around AUD2000 (using 4 1000 x 4000 mm panel with an output of 60W each would cost around AUD500 in Australia). This is still far from within the range of most under-developed countries. Although solar panel have a service life of 20 years, it is still a significant investment. If such money were available, there would be other competing needs for the scarce electrical power resource in the remote areas.

Another important point about digital divide is the assumption of ubiquity of the communication network. Yes, once an optical fibre is laid, the cost of communication is almost next to nothing. Yet, the initial infra-structure investment is huge and demanding. Again, if any fund is available, there would be competing needs for the fund for other more urgent infra-structure expenses, e.g. fresh water supply (although there is an exciting Australian invention which may help solve this problem in remote villages) or medical services.

While I like to see more equality in terms of providing digital access to communities, I don't see any chance of getting any better in a long time.

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