If you’re waiting to exhale until the U.S. government swoops in and saves the populace from the troubling Digital Divide problem, you’d better reconsider.
After all, the right answers rarely come from government, and certainly won’t in this case. Government subsidies, tax breaks and block grants for poorer consumers are not the way to cure the problem.
First, such a course of action assumes that the only people being hurt by the Divide are those on the underside of it — those without access. Second, it assumes that there is no motivation in the private sector to see the gap closed.
Wrong on both counts. Which is why Texas Governor George W. Bush is the best person for the job of helping to oversee the closing of the Digital Divide. Bush will put an end to the unfounded notion that government is best able to solve every problem, and give the roaring American economy a chance to take care of its own.
Get Out of the Way
Let’s face it: There’s a reason the government is not in the business of hooking people up to the Internet. Getting things done in an efficient, expeditious manner is not exactly the strength of our federal system.
Plus, we’ve seen that people are much better at spending their money than any government. The Bush tax cut, by returning dollars to the pockets of every citizen, will give poorer folks more financial flexibility and the freedom to choose whether the Internet, e-commerce, and what-have-you is a priority.
Has Al Gore ever met a bureaucrat he didn’t like?
But above all, businesses have a clear motivation to increase Web access. The opportunities to sell services and goods and distribute content and advertising on the Internet are only as great as the online population. And the best way to grow that population is to get people hooked onto the Web.
Private industry is already doing its part. Microsoft recently unveiled its cheapest Web-only appliance yet, which is virtually free when a couple years worth of access is bought. Motorola and Cisco Systems have kicked in $1 billion to work on high-speed networks that can connect even rural residents to the Web. Telephone carriers are eyeing the next generation of wireless as a way to bring the Internet everywhere.
As recently as Thursday, America Online (AOL) made a deal with two of the world’s five largest automakers that has the same potential to get people wired who otherwise might be on the fence. The deal pays off for both sides: AOL adds to its audience and, as the General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler execs point out, having a Web-savvy workforce is in their long-term best interest.
Taken together, these are all substantial steps, all taken by the private sector and all taken with an eye toward the eventual payoff that comes from having more people online.
Waiting Game Over
For all of its foibles, the Clinton administration has gotten the Digital Divide right. By taking advantage of his loud megaphone, the president has raised awareness enough to inspire private companies like Yahoo! and 3Com to jump in and tackle the problem.
But that’s where it should end. The single best way to make the Digital Divide close is to clear out of the way and let it happen. The free market will do the dirty work.
Getting the entire country wired is a high priority, but it isn’t going to happen by smothering the digital economy with government. And make no mistake — Al Gore, unlike his boss, is an old-style tax-and-spender the likes of which we haven’t seen since Fritz Mondale carried only Minnesota and Washington, D.C. in 1984.
So, if you want to see the gap closed, remember on Election Day who built this great digital economy in the first place. If you think it was the government, then go with Gore and don’t look back. But if you think it was the hard work and ingenuity of the American people, then cast your vote for Bush and watch the power of the private sector go to work.