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Report: Digital Government Printing Office Leaves Many Out

Report: Digital Government Printing Office Leaves Many Out

Ralph Nader says Government Printing Office shouldn't retire the printing press

September 1st, 2012 by Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs in News

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader longs for the good old days of the printed page. He's not just being "old school," however. He's worried that when the government begins putting out all its information on the Internet, too many Americans are left out.

Nader cites a report by his organization, Center for Study of Responsive Law, that focuses on the U.S. Government Printing Office's (GPO) move to publish more information in an electronic format only, reducing printing costs.

Digital divide

"For over 150 years, since President Abraham Lincoln took office, the Government Printing Office has played a vital role in disseminating information about the government to Americans," Nader said. "As the GPO moves information online, the digital divide between connected and unconnected Americans is widening. This threatens the GPO's self-proclaimed mission to 'keep America informed.'"

Nader's point is the people who don't have access to computers or reliable Internet service are exactly the people who need access to government information the most. For the most part, they are the poor, the elderly and those living in rural areas, where high-speed Internet service is sometimes lacking.

22 percent don't use Internet

A 2012 report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project shows 22 percent of Americans over the age of 18 don't use the Internet. This equates to 50 million people.

In many cases this is not a result of economics but demographics. Many older consumers simply never embraced computers and now find they are at a clear disadvantage when they need to access information. Even many telephone books have been eliminated in favor of online directories.

The GPO's efforts to put an increasing amount of government information online takes a huge step forward in making this information more accessible than ever to Americans with Internet access. An unfortunate consequence of the shift away from print media, however, is that Americans who remain offline are increasingly disconnected from their government, Nader says.

Troubling picture

The report paints a troubling picture of who is being left behind:

  • 32.1 percent of Americans making less than $15,000 per year had high-speed Internet access in their home, compared with nearly 90 percent of those making $150,000 or more annually.
  • 49 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Latinos have access to broadband Internet at home, versus 66 percent of whites.
  • 94 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 were Internet users, while only 41 percent of people 65 years or older were.

There are great benefits in making information available online," Nader said. "But if we shift in this direction oblivious to the unintended consequences, we risk losing an invaluable resource."