I crunch the numbers on Fayetteville's Social Media resolution
Last Tuesday, largely because of a tweet by Alderman Petty, I went to the Fayetteville City Council meeting to voice my favor for the social media resolution. It had previously been tabled; I didn't see what the big deal was about. During the public input, a few elderly citizens expressed discomfort at the idea. One woman said that, while at first glance it seemed inclusive, it was one of the "most deeply exclusive" measures that the city could adopt, remarking that approximately 1/4th of the city was under the poverty line and very likely could not afford luxuries such as a computer or internet. Furthermore, she dismissed the possibility of them using the computers at the library by claiming that there would be a rush to the free internet, effectively overwhelming the system.
My retort was plain and simple, largely because I had neither the time nor faculty to research what I wanted to say. What I did say is that, while such technologies are expensive, they are in fact provided for free. A free, if even time-limited, technology is inherently, even infinitely, more free than the city's current method of using the NWA Times to communicate decisions to the population. I readily owned up to not subscribing to a paper.
Here's what I would have said, had I been capable of doing the research:
First off, Fayetteville's population (during the special census of 2006) is 67,158. However, it is ridiculous to assume that all 67,158 of Fayetteville's residents are politically engaged and particularly care about politics. I think a good number to follow would be the amount of people who voted in the 2008 mayoral runoff election. Why the runoff? They're drawn in solely for local reasons, and not to cast their vote for president.
According to this post on NWAnews.com, the mayoral runoff had Jordan defeating Coody with 5,796 votes over 4,319. 5,796 and 4,319 equal 10,115, or 15% of the 2006 population. Assuming that the 10,115 voters represent an even cross-section of Fayetteville, we can estimate the number of impoverished citizens who are also locally politically engaged to be 2,528.75 (using the detractor's own standard of Fayetteville's poverty).
This library report (pdf link; curiously enough when I first tried to access faylib.org, I was prompted to take a survey on how important having the internet in the public library was to me) from the opening of the Blair Library—almost 5 years ago, and almost certainly outdated—says that the library has 125 "computer workstations." The library is open for 64 hours a week; 11 on Monday-Thursday, 8 on Friday and Saturday, and 4 on Sundays. According to the library's computer use policy, "There is a two-hour time limit for the total amount of computer access per day." Assuming that there is, in fact, the "overwhelming rush" described by the lady at the city council meeting and that the library computers therefore are in full usage 100% of the time, that means that an 11-hour day can see 750 individual users (with the last 125 only getting 1 hour of access), an 8-hour day can see 500 individual users, and a 4-hour day can see 250 individual users. That means that, in any given week, and assuming that each person uses a computer for the full two hours, the library is capable of handling 4250 computer users per week. And while the two-hour policy applies only per day, meaning that theoretically the same 750 people could occupy the library computers 100% of the time, it is highly unlikely. As is, the library presents more than enough opportunities for all 2528.75 impoverished-and-politically-active citizens to access the internet at least once a week.
More statistical fun:
I once saw in an ad on Razorback Transit that 7 in 10 students live off-campus. Given the U of A enrollment of 19,194, this implies that 13,435.8 U of A students do not live on campus. Now, not all of them necessarily live in Fayetteville. Let's assume that three-fourths of them do. That leaves us with 10,076.85. If we then apply the poverty line, we get 2,519.2125 impoverished college students living within the city. If we then apply the politically active number (15%, achieved by using the results of the mayoral election), we end up with 377.881875. Those 378 politically engaged and impoverished students have free internet at the university, and would not need to use it at the public library. This leaves just 2,150.75 people who would theoretically rely on the library for internet. That's just slightly more than half of the 4,250 users the library is capable of handling a week, meaning that, theoretically, the non-university impoverished and politically engaged citizens could have 4 hours of free internet access a week at the public library.
4 hours of free internet access a week is hardly crippling.
As a postscript to the elderly woman in front of me who smugly smiled every time someone mentioned the age gap, Facebook's largest growing segment right now is women older than 55.
But people usually go in with their minds made up and work the facts to support them. After all, I just did.