There is a new gap in our country that is leaving a lot of people behind as the Information Age races ever forward. That gap is the inability for many people in our country to have easy access to the Internet. While libraries typically have several, if not dozens, of terminals that the public may use free of charge, and many people, even ones in low-income brackets, have internet access on their cell phones, the ability and ease of access is not the same as having a laptop or desktop computer at home. Should there be more effort to make systems and access to the internet affordable to all?
I agree with all the responses that do not feel it should be a governmental responsibility to insure that computers are available in all homes. There are too many other expenses that need to be higher priorities for the government, aside from the fact that I don't think suggestion of such a program would be at all well received by individuals who are suspicious of governmental intervention in the private residences of citizens!
The thing that concerns me in reading prior posts is how easily we all assume that everyone has access to public libraries and that those libraries have adequate computers available. For students in migrant families, becoming familiar with a "local" library would mean getting acquainted with a new facility and new procedures possibly multiple times every year. For students who are homeless, much the same challenge.
There are some programs in place to help some children who are in contact with relatively stable resources (http://blogs.globeuniversity.edu/2012/06/22/it-club-donates-refurbished-computers-to-homeless-youth-in-minnesota/), but there are still a lot of underserved kids who are going to be very difficult to reach - and very handicapped in trying to improve their situation in this increasingly technological culture, I fear.
I think there is a push for Internet access to available to all. This isn't something the government should fund, but it is certainly something that is happening of its own accord. As the Internet becomes more and more of a necessity, people and communities are finding ways to manage the resource. Schools are certainly required to teach students responsible Internet use. Libraries and public facilities offer free Internet access. Many restaurants and stores now offer free access as well. There are even some towns which use tax dollars to offer free Internet to the entire community (although it isn't really free since residents cover the cost in taxes and fees). Internet providers are offering lower and lower prices for basic Internet access. Cell phone providers are beginning to allow unlimited data which allows people to tether larger devices such as computers and laptops to their phones. As the information age moves forward, I think we will see less and less people without Internet access even among the lower income brackets.
On one hand, I think this situation is one place where American capitalism is performing well. Prices of Internet connectivity have declined; prices of computers and laptops have declined; accessibility to equipment in some states has increased. While cable Internet access can still be costly, mobile phone carriers (like AT&T) provide home Internet connectivity for sometimes surprisingly reasonable costs. Laptop and desktop computer prices have come down as technology improves, supply increases and innovation takes its place. Refurbished laptops and desktops can be bought (as available) for as low as $170; Radio Shack offers refurbished laptops online with sometimes remarkably low prices. Some states like Maine, a low income state, have programs in place in which all eighth graders (or some such) receive free laptops. These are envisioned as serving the student all through their schooling. On the other hand, what with all the furor over "socialistic" measures suggested by government, I can't see government authorizing caps or restrictions on Internet and/or computer prices in a fashion similar to the traditional regulations and restrictions on the power utilities industries. Then again, maybe Internet is the new electric power utility ...!
This question falls very much in line with my thoughts on funding for the National Park System in a previous discussion. In theory I believe that greater computer access for all people is a good thing, but I believe our nation has much more pressing issues to concern itself with presently.
Our nation's finances are spiraling out of control, and our debt is so bad that our credit rating has been downgraded numerous times. I believe projects like helping people buy computers are part of the problem. Most public libraries have internet access for free to people, and many schools in poor areas make their computer labs available to students and even the public during off hours.
The bottom line is computer access is not a necessity at this point in time. Our nation is in debt and we don't have the means to take on luxury programs. I would love to have a BMW, and my family would be safer in it due to its advanced safety and construction features compared to my current vehicle. Unfortunately, my current income can not justify this expense regardless of its benefits. I wish our government would take a similar approach at looking at the finances of our country.
The government should make sure that students in all schools have the chance to use computers at school. However, it should not institute any broad programs to bring cheap internet access and/or computers to every household. It is true that children from lower-income households may fall behind in life if they are not well-versed in computer use and the internet. However, they can learn the basics at school. They will not be as proficient as higher-income students, but a certain degree of inequality is the price we pay for living in a capitalist society.
What really should happen is that private charitable foundations should work to help poorer kids catch up to the more affluent in terms of computer aptitude.
It seems to me that the vast majority of people do have access to the Internet. I could be wrong, but that's my impression. It is not particularly expensive, and computers themselves are no longer prohibitively expensive for most people.
I don't believe that there should be any sort government program that pays for people to have computers or internet access. Just like television or other modern electronics, people need to take care of that expense themselves. We are in enough of a financial hole as it is.