Thoughts on the Modern Language Association Convention and Global Internet Usage over 35%

As I’m looking forward to the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention which is later this week, I’m also reflecting on the new year and new work for scholarly cyberinfrastructure, the promises of digital scholarship, and problems related to a lack of access. In looking forward to what the next year will bring, I’m again reminded of the importance of collaboration and commitment to shared goals.
Lack of access problem is a problem of many types and levels.
In June 2012, MLA journals adopted author agreements that support Open Access and, in doing so, added support for correcting a lack of public access to scholarly materials. The Open Access movement and other publishers, scholarly societies, libraries, scholars, and others who have worked to support Open Access have made great strides in improving access to research so that scholarly materials are not locked away with access only for those who can afford it. A great deal more work remains to be done, especially to ensure that the value of scholarly societies and publishers is supported as we all work together as a community to embrace Open Access in a way that supports dynamic and necessary members of our community like the MLA.
At the University of Florida, on-campus network speed is an issue for research computing and for new research areas that are becoming data-intensive in our current data age. Luckily, UF has an NSF grant for the GatorCloud project to will build a software defined network (SDN) that will increase the campus research network speeds from 10GB/second to 100GB/second, with a separate NSF grant to enhance the connection from UF to the outside world. This work is UF-focused for the application, but the promises of software defined networks (SDNs) for campus research networks (CRNs) is huge. I enthusiastically and literally hopped up and down when telling others about the presentation by Andy Li on GatorCloud and SDNs because this will lead to a dramatic change for the better in terms of faster, smarter, and cheaper access (and business-impact questions). Work on SDNs is still relatively new and there’s a great deal to be done in terms of improving the networks and then in seeing what can be done and what’s wanted from the improved networks. The humanities have been relatively later to data-intensive and network research than some other fields, so the even wider support means new opportunities and considerations.
The digital divide for access is a major concern. Current estimates place global internet usage at 35% in 2011, with a sharp rise from the 2006 level of 18% (“The World in 2011: ITC Facts and Figures”, International Telecommunications Unions (ITU), Geneva, 2011; and “Global Internet Usage,” Wikipedia). The ITU has set a recommended target for 2015 where “Internet user penetration should reach 60 per cent worldwide, 50 per cent in developing countries and 15 per cent in LDCs [least developed countries]” (Measuring the Information Society, “Executive Summary,” page 5). These numbers are both high and low, with so much lost in the bulk percentages. For instance, while the US has generally high overall internet access, at 78.3% (Wikipedia), this number doesn’t reflect the fact that rural areas have a great deal less access. Mississippi was estimated at 59% in 2011 (“Little access to broadband Internet hurting rural Mississippi”) and:

Less than 10 percent of homes on tribal lands have broadband Internet service — a rate that is lower than in some developing countries. By contrast, more than half of African Americans and Hispanics and about three-fourths of whites have high-speed access at home,  according to the Department of Commerce.”  (“On Tribal Lands, Digital Divide Brings New Form Of Isolation”).

Within the US, even these recent numbers should change quickly and dramatically with stimulus funds invested in core infrastructure to improve access across the country. The National Broadband Map is available to help “search, analyze and map broadband availability across the United States” (National Broadband Map). The digital divide remains a major concern and is something that our scholarly community works to address in many ways and will need to continue working to support improvements.
With pending improvements that will require new models and exploratory work as well as large, complex problems that need more attention, I’m looking forward to collaborating with others to support shared goals. I look forward to continued growth of high-capacity research computing with data curation and data management work as well as participating in networks that are mailing files on DVDs and hard drives to support the transfer of files for Open Access as well as for use in areas without adequate internet access. I’m again very thankful that my work requires that I deal with problems and concerns of both high- and low-capacity digital scholarship, with each enhancing my perspective and approaches to the other. I’m again thankful for the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) which presents these and other rich problems and opportunities, and which requires collaborating with amazing colleagues, including folks I’ll get to see at the MLA Convention.