The digital divide is rapidly closing. What does that mean for podcasting?
For those of us with access, it’s tempting to take always-on, high-speed internet connectivity for granted. But for much of the world, high-speed internet remains a work in progress. Satellite internet, inexpensive connected devices, and last-mile solutions are close to providing near-complete coverage to the planet, finally signaling the end of the internet frontier. While work remains to be done, not just in traditionally underserved regions like Africa but even here in the US, the gap is closing. What will that mean for us?
I grew up in Central Oregon, in a logging town near a historic offshoot of the Oregon Trail. Even though the 1890 Census declared the American frontier closed, vestiges of frontier life were everywhere when I was a kid. While bike riding in Eastern Oregon one time, I marveled at Oregon Trail wagon wheel ruts still visible, in petrified mud. Maybe that’s why the idea of progress and movement, of restless people chasing new ideas, has always resonated with me.
My mother helped close another frontier in Oregon: the emergency medical services frontier. As an ER Nurse Practitioner, she helped launch the regional medical helicopter service, Air Life. If you broke your leg in the wilderness or crashed your car on a lonely stretch of rural highway, she might have been the medical responder to show up onboard the helicopter to save you. I always admired her blend of technical competence, medical skill, and adventurous risk management. She suffered from motion sickness and so would apply Scopolamine anti-nausea patches while she worked. That’s the same spirit of grit and fortitude which helped settle this part of the West.
As a global society, we’re approaching the end of another frontier: worldwide density of high-quality internet access. Soon the notion of digital haves and have-nots, that some folks have great internet access and some don’t, will be antiquated. The advent of reusable first-stage rocket boosters has radically reduced the cost of getting payloads to space. Suddenly, it’s economically viable to have satellite mega-constellations in low Earth orbit. These satellite swarms are providing global services like daily photographic observation, ubiquitous climate monitoring, and universally available global internet.
This transportation innovation in space launch is enabling global, low-latency connectivity and eliminating internet deserts around the world. People who have never enjoyed access to the internet before or have only limited, slow connectivity are gaining high-speed internet everywhere in the world. For the first time, ships at sea, explorers and researchers in the farthest reaches of the Arctic, and underserved rural communities on all continents will have high-speed connectivity. This cohort of 2.7 billion people coming online for the first time represents another third of the world’s population with things to say and culture to contribute.
The explosive popularity of podcasting, thanks to Apple iTunes in 2005, then the iPhone, then Spotify, has meant two decades of steady growth in content, diversity of audience, and overall economic activity around this global audio conversation. Podcasting remains the easiest way to distribute long-form niche media. The closing of the digital frontier will unleash a new wave of global audio, full of fresh voices. I am here for it!
As a veteran of the podcast industry from the early days, I’ve always been most excited about shows from new creators and networks in different parts of the world. At Spooler, we specialize in helping creators tell stories that are up-to-date and contextualized in the location where they happen. I couldn’t be more excited to hear what the next 100 million podcasters have to say.
James O. Boggs