Smartphones Are Bridging the Digital Divide

Author: 

[Commentary] Federal regulators weighing the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger must not ignore a significant but quietly unfolding revolution in how Americans connect to the Internet for information and products.

The changes began with the 2007-2008 launch of the iPhone and Android and have accelerated with the introduction of low-cost cellphone plans. What is most striking about this smartphone revolution is its democratic character. For years, government officials, as well as academics, worried that the rise of the Internet would create a digital divide between those who could connect and those who couldn't. They wrestled with how to bring broadband to rural communities and to poor urban residents who couldn't afford laptops or a broadband connection at home. Many decried the U.S.'s 12th place ranking -- behind South Korea, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany -- in fixed-broadband connectivity. But no one metric can begin to capture the complexity of today's marketplace for Internet connectivity. Officials who still cling to such statistics as fixed-broadband access, and regulators who make policy around them, overlook the emerging reality brought about by rapid technological progress, business innovation and a dynamic wireless market. The smartphone revolution enables people to take matters into their own hands and find effective ways to narrow the digital divide.

[Hood is executive director of the Institute for Communication Technology Management at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California. The institute's 30 corporate sponsors include wireless and communications companies, among them AT&T, Verizon and US Cellular.]


Smartphones Are Bridging the Digital Divide