Independence Day on Edge: Is Wireless the Next Digital Divide?

tags: action, wireless-access

The Charlottesville farmers’ market was full of local berries this morning. Local peaches are just starting to come in. Lots of folks were out walking and on bikes, baskets filled with greens.

The July 4th holiday and all this bounty got me thinking about wireless and independence. The iPhone from which I write, like all of them in the US, uses AT&T for wireless service. In Charlottesville that means Edge, a 2nd generation wireless tech. This works okay for browsing sites that are optimized for mobile (Google reader, say, or the Wimbelton scoreboard), but it’s not fast enough for general web browsing. Think dialup vs DSL. At dialup wireless speeds, the folks in Charlottesville will miss out on much of the innovation behind the iPhone — apps in particular. I’m thinking of apps like Foursquare, which require both bandwidth for the download and friends with bandwidth to play. While I’ve seen plenty of folks here in Charlottesville with iPhones, their experiences connected to the slower edge network is completely different than mine on Alexandria’s 3G.

Why does that matter? At home, I have come to view this phone as my everything box — part notebook, part oracle, my gateway to the network. I write posts with it. I answer questions with it, wherever I am. But I am mostly in 3G territory. On Edge this is a different device altogether.

The iPhone is of course proprietary. On one level it’s preposterous to say there ought to be a right to 3G and the iPhone. But I wonder, as I see my own productivity with this device, the blog posts from anywhere: how can Edgeland compete?

And if Edgeland cannot, isn’t it the job of the US government to regulate to ensure a level playing field? Or should we hope that Apple, through shrewd relicensing to AT&T or expansion to another carrier, can negotiate a wider spread of the 3G?

Wireless, I fear, is the next digital divide.