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One Internet with Equal Access for All
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Bobby Approved (v 3.2)
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Copyright ©2000-2004
Online Policy Group, Inc.

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Fundraising Appeal

Dear Friend,

Have you ever experienced frustration when you could not access your email or a favorite website? Imagine that frustration increased a hundred-fold for those who cannot afford or are otherwise denied access to email, favorite websites, or a place to publish their own point of view on the Internet.

Information Access Increases the Standard of Living

In today's world, people must have access to online information to participate fully in society. That is why people like you and I get involved in organizations like the Online Policy Group. We assist communities of people that are underrepresented, underserved, or who have traditionally faced discrimination online. We reach out to those who are not reaping the benefits of the promise of universal Internet access.

We seek to fulfill the promise of one Internet with equal access for all.

The Internet is a lifeline for many people who are living in isolation from their communities -- teenagers questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, African-American or Jewish people living in the midst of "color-blind" mainstream America, a disabled friend who can travel only with great difficulty, or an elderly couple involuntarily reclusive in their home.

The Digital Divide

Most people think of the digital divide as the gap between the "have's" and the "have not's" on the Internet. The "have's" have access to computer equipment, network services, training, and education about computers and how to use them. If they are lucky, the "have not's" rely on access to outmoded computers in overcrowded public schools or libraries with little or no training or education. The digital divide reflects and reinforces economic disparities and cultural differences between various sectors of our society. As a result of these disparities, a wealthy and well-educated elite tends to obtain more benefit from the technology and information available on the Internet.

A teenager in a low-income neighborhood who does not have a computer with Internet access experiences a digital divide from a teenager with broadband access living in a wealthy suburban neighborhood. In both cases, the Internet could provide critical resources to the teenagers' lives but due to the digital divide the wealthier teenager is more likely to prosper leaving the lower-income teenager behind.

Computer and Internet literacy training is a critical part of every child's education. Children who do not receive such training will be at a great disadvantage in today's world. Every public school should provide instruction in the use of computers well integrated within the overall curriculum, rather than in separate computer labs that do not apply computers in real-life situations. Local, state, and national governments should work in cooperation with schools, libraries, and nonprofit organizations to ensure that no child is left a victim of the digital divide.

The danger of the increasing commercialization of the Internet is that more and more of the activity on the Internet becomes oriented toward making a buck than toward the interactive free flow of information. The structure of information flow on the Internet is starting to resemble highly-controlled and commercialized broadcast media such as television and cable.

When services start to cost and the production and distribution of content becomes more controlled, the digital divide between the "have's" and the "have not's" becomes more and more pronounced. For example, those who can afford to pay for access to back issues of the Washington Post newspaper online need not travel to a library in order to gain important information.

Barring a sweeping and effective campaign to lessen or eliminate the digital divide, the long-term consequence of the digital divide is the effective abandonment of segments of society to a lower standard of living and societal participation than that of a wealthier elite of our society which, in effect, undermines the strength of a democracy.

Mandatory Blocking or Filterring Damages Schools and Libraries

The digital divide also occurs when those in control of the creation and distribution of Internet content decide to block certain types of content from their audiences. In 2000, the US Congress passed and President Clinton signed legislation requiring Internet filtering in every public school or library that participates in federal programs (see http// ).

Congress even voted contrary to the recommendations of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) Commission appointed by Congress to study the issue (see ).

The problem is that the existing filtering products do not work as advertised because the filters do not block much of what they are supposed to block and -- at the same time -- the filters block many websites they are not supposed to block. The filters often block "controversial" content unfairly, such as basic support information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

In response, the Online Policy Group has started the Schools and Libraries Project to prepare educational materials and offer consulting to school and library administrators on how to comply with the law without stifling the free speech and human rights of students and library patrons using filtering software that simply does not work properly (see ).

The Online Policy Group also tracks and responds to local, state, and national legislation related to Internet filtering software.

Online Service Providers Prevent Equal Access

A prime example of media convergence is the AOL/TimeWarner merger approved by the Federal Trade Commission (see Collectively, the merged company controls much of the broadband Internet access in the United States. Although the merger was approved with a commitment to making the high-speed Internet pipeline into American homes available to online service providers other than just AOL, it is unclear how much the U.S. public will suffer a loss of diversity of content and services due to monopoly control of the means of production and distribution of the content and services.

At the same time, anecdotal reports of discriminatory incidents are on the rise at more and more online service providers. Somewhat understandably, online service providers, like AOL, Yahoo, and others, are reluctant to take these anecdotal reports seriously.

The Online Service Provider Assessment project of the Online Policy Group surveys companies like AOL, Yahoo, and others to determine if they are discriminating, whether intentionally or not, against certain types of content and communities (see ).

Having gathered quantitative and scientifically valid data on such discrimination through the use of a proven methodology, the Online Policy Group negotiates and provides recommendations to companies who engage in discrimination. If the company is unresponsive, the Online Policy Group alerts the media and consumers so they can make an informed choice about online products and services.

The Online Policy Group also solicits reports and responds to incidents of bias, discrimination, and defamation online through the SWAT Team for each constituency served by the organization (see ). Constituencies include the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, women, elderly, youth, disabled, and those facing health issues such as HIV, AIDS, or cancer.

The Search Engines project provides helpful hints to web site administrators about how to make sure their sites are accessible online (see ).

Improving Access for Communities Facing Discrimination

In 2000, the Online Policy Group announced a new project called QueerNet, devoted to increasing the online presence of those who are underserved, underrepresented, or face bias, discrimination, or defamation online. And in 2001, the California Community Colocation Project (CCCP) joined OPG. With the addition of QueerNet and CCCP to the Online Policy Group family, individuals and organizations may now request from OPG a variety of free Internet services, including email lists, web hosting, domain name registration, and colocation services, i.e. hosting a computer server on a rack at a secure hi-bandwidth Internet Service Provider facility.

The digital divide is not just an economic phenomenon. For example, teenagers who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity and are growing up in unsupportive families and communities may -- if they have access to the Internet-- discover a lifeline to information and a community of support that could literally save their lives. There are testimonials from teenagers who tell us that the contacts and advice they found through the Internet kept them feeling strong and supported, rather than spiraling downward into depression, despair, drug abuse, or even suicide.

The Human Side of the Internet

In fact, the ability to connect with other people is one of the greatest benefits of the Internet. For elderly people isolated in their homes, for those disabled people who have difficulty leaving their homes, and for anyone who feels isolated due to separation from a community of like-minded souls, the Internet provides the most significant opportunities.

The purpose of the Online Policy Group is to make sure that people everywhere have access to email, to supportive web sites, and to resources for publishing and broadcasting on the Internet.

Please Help

You can make a difference today! Whether it be for research, outreach, or action on online policy issues, you can help by volunteering or donating to the Online Policy Group.

Thank you for your generous contribution.


Will Doherty
Executive Director
Online Policy Group

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