Within the context of the telecommunications policy environment in the United States during the 1990s, the Department of Commerce’s Falling through the Net reports can be read as a seven-year ideological project to legitimize U.S. government’s deregulatory policies. This paper analyzes “digital divide” as rhetorical trope in an neoliberal ideology, which placed responsibility for social and economic success in the emerging global information economy at the level of the individual and not the system, effectively foreclosing on any class-based analyses of the problems associated with the transition from a Keynesian welfare state and industrial economy to a neoliberal and globalized information economy. Unpacking of the discursive significance of the “digital divide,” with special focus on public libraries and projects of Gates Foundation, illuminates how it foreclosed on the possibility of alternative problem definitions by making the problem a technical and administrative one rather than an issue of historic class struggle. The paper draws on open source projects in developing countries to offer an alternate frame for formulating policies for inequitable access to ICTs.
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