them available ubiquitously. Ubiquity has three dimensions: access for everyone, access everywhere, and access anytime.

Access for Everyone

The challenge of providing ubiquitous access to all citizens has several elements. First, it involves overcoming geographical and financial barriers. Much of the excitement associated with e-government is akin to that associated with e-commerce—online access from the home means not having to trek to a government office or find the time to place a telephone call during normal business hours (often only to be put on hold).

But home access is constrained by such factors as the affordability of computer equipment and whether Internet or other telecommunications services are available and affordable in a given area. While the cost of computers has dropped significantly over the years and the penetration of computers and Internet access has reached roughly one-half of U.S. households, the hardware cost is still greater than that of many other consumer appliances; thus penetration lags significantly behind that of telephone service (which is nearly ubiquitous). Similarly, although dialup Internet access is available from a number of providers in most parts of the country through a local call, there are areas where dial-up access is either not available or only available from a single provider.1

Helping provide for those without home access, a growing number of libraries and other community institutions offer public Internet access, supported in part by several federal programs.2 Residential broadband Internet service provides much higher data rates that support faster download times and the use of richer multimedia content, but its availability is spotty. As this availability continues to grow, there will be concerns about whether those limited to dial-up access will be at a disadvantage similar to that experienced earlier by people without any form of Internet access. Even if affordable and available, today’s technologies and services present


Thomas A. Downes and Shane Greenstein. 1998. “Do Commercial ISPs Provide Universal Access?” Available online at <>.


The e-rate program, established under section 254 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, uses a levy on interstate and international telecommunications providers to support discounts on eligible institutions’ purchases of telecommunications and Internet services plus internal networking, with discounts varying with location (e.g., high-cost, low-income). Community-based Internet access is also supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Networks program and the U.S. Department of Education’s Community Technology Center grants.

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