Does the information superhighway shun the poor? A study backed by groups including the Consumer Federation of America and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) charges that the advanced electronic communication systems now being planned and built in the U.S. are shunning poorer neighborhoods and minority populations in what amounts to "electronic redlining" -- designating neighborhoods as bad for business.
One telecommunications company spokesman, US West's Jerry Brown, counters: "To say that we are going to stay out of areas permanently is dishonest and ridiculous. But we had to start building our network someplace. And it is being built in areas where there are customers we believe will use and buy the service. This is a business." (New York Times, 5/24/94.)
Thus far, the electronic revolution has been waged by information-rich drivers on the superhighway. Generally, these drivers are highly educated, informed, and capable of acting as their own advocates. They articulate their own needs, such as more video dial-tone networks. These networks could become the primary communication system for millions. Customers eventually will be able to link their phones and televisions so they can participate in meetings, shop at their favorite stores, and choose from hundreds of movies and television programs at their convenience.
For several years now projections have been made about increasing diversity in the U.S. The traditional majority (commonly viewed as "haves") is becoming a minority in many locales, and U.S.-born people of color and immigrants (commonly viewed as "have-nots") are expected to represent 43 percent of the new entrants to the work force between 1985 and 2000. If the haves possess the new communication technologies and the have-nots don't, couldn't a major, and unnecessary, socioeconomic rift occur? As a practical matter, won't the haves encounter a more difficult time than ever finding "qualified" personnel to fill jobs?
If you are information poor, you don't know what you don't know. Who speaks for you and your need -- and right -- to participate in the information revolution? Who can you count on to do the right thing? What do you, as a fairly information-rich reader, see between the lines of the following excerpt from a 1994 Associated Press release?
"... In some cities, like Chicago and Denver, minorities and low-income people are the predominant residents of areas where the companies do not plan to lay the initial groundwork for video dialtone facilities."
Rick Blake, in his article "Blacks and the Information Superhighway" (Focus, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Washington, D.C.), says, "Our society has critical choices to make in...