The Wired Village: Building Communities and Improving Government Services Through Advanced Telecommunications and Information Networks
30 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2001
Date Written: February 2001
A sizable gap exists between the vision of what telecommunications and information processing networks can provide and what they currently deliver. Some people already have accrued benefits from a wired community and many embrace much touted concepts of "personal empowerment" and "frictionless commerce." However, a greater number of people remain skeptical, and many consider the costs of becoming part of a wired community greater than the perceived benefits. The full payoff to individuals and communities can occur if and only if both the services offered and usage reach a critical mass. This White Paper examines the role of federal, state and local governments in stimulating the supply and use of on-line networks. Operating within current budget levels, governments can serve as an essential catalyst by operating as an "anchor tenant" on various networks, particularly ones serving specific localities. As well, governments should look to using networking as a more effective vehicle for delivering education, social services, job placement, licensing, etc. Just about any service government provides in a direct, physical manner, e.g., walk-in permit applications at a central location, can be mediated via electronic networks and offer faster, better, smarter, cheaper and more convenient service.
Much of the public policy debate about access to the vast opportunities in on-line networking has focused on affordability, and the comparative disadvantages stemming from differences in income, education and location. While these factors certainly matter, the White Paper considers the impact of other important factors, including computer literacy, perceptions of value in networking and the extent to which governments have used funding to promote the on-line availability of the services they offer. A longstanding multi-billion dollar universal service funding regime has developed primarily to provide financial subsidies to make telecommunications services affordable to rural, elderly and poor citizens. But an equally important tactic involves the development of strategies to encourage an interest in, and the ability to access on-line services. In this pursuit, governments do not have to spend more money. Instead they have to consider more timely and effective ways for delivering existing services and to explore what new services on-line networks can provide. Governments can stimulate consumer demand for advanced telecommunications and information networks by becoming sponsors, early adopters and facilitators of services that enhance one's quality of life. For some, governments can achieve these objectives simply by eliminating some of the inconvenience triggered by necessary, but routine and frequent transactions with citizens. On-line access to a user-friendly, municipal government World Wide Web page on the Internet offers the convenience of 24 hours a day, seven days a week access, with no lines, transportation problems and other irritations. For other citizens, access coupled with desired content and services can make a difference in one's life and sense of place in the community. For these citizens, governments can team with other community institutions, such as public broadcasters, newspapers, museums, clinics, employment agencies, libraries, schools, airport authorities, tourism and community development groups, etc. to amalgamate desirable content and to make that content more accessible.
The White Paper endorses a strategy where governments trigger demand for advanced services and widespread deployment of community networks by offering expanded and enhanced services. These "must have" applications provide the inducement for citizens to make sizeable investments of time, money and effort. As well these services stimulate the development of advanced, broadband networks that improve the quality and speed of access. The pull of attractive services, and stimulated consumer demand can achieve more than simply pushing the promises offered by new technologies.
Keywords: Internet, Digital Divide, Telecommunications Development, Technology Diffusion
JEL Classification: L96, L98, O32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation