How the DMV Could Improve Internet Access in America
Advocacy To make it easier for the surprising number of unconnected U.S. citizens to enjoy the same degree of web access, a bit of creativity will go a long way.
In the country that invented the internet, over 60 million people in America still don’t have the internet at home. These people span demographics and geographies, but are disproportionately minority and poor.
Aiming for change
To combat this divide, multiple internet service providers have laudably made low-cost home internet service offers available. While these new programs may be more affordable, they are not the most accessible. By access, we do not simply mean having the fiber in the ground or the wiring to your home.
Rather, access should mean giving the unconnected and underserved the most streamlined means to sign-up for the indispensable tool that is the internet. For example, Apple has spent millions of dollars and hours to figure out how to shave seconds off unlocking your iPhone. By contrast, applying for low-cost service requires people to fill out multiple applications and speak to multiple parts of an organization.
Access should mean giving the unconnected and underserved the most streamlined means to sign-up for the indispensable tool that is the internet.
Keeping Silicon Valley user experience principles in mind, the answer to how we can do this better lies in a different space entirely: The Department of Motor Vehicles.
A model that works
To encourage voting in the 1990s, many states passed “motor-voter” legislation, allowing DMV workers to ask driver’s license applicants if they wanted to register to vote. If the applicant said yes, they could be registered on the spot. It’s a simple approach, but extremely effective.
Why not apply this to home internet adoption? We should take all the common touchpoints that low-income people in America have, like visits to health clinics, applying for social benefits, or getting a library card, and use these opportunities to ask the unconnected if they wanted internet service and created streamlined ways for them to sign up.
When we treat the unconnected like consumers and not victims, this creates the access needed for true affordability and finally closing this digital divide.