Digital Divide Digital Denied
DIGITAL DIVIDE DIGITAL DENIED
Along with economics, systemic racism impacts broadband access
What happens when people don’t have access to the Internet with its wealth of information, its connection to remote work sites, and its critical role for students of all ages? Those of us with laptops tuned to Wi-Fi and broadband rarely think of those whom society has neglected. These poorer communities have not benefited from technology and are shut out from this cutting-edge electronic modern day universe.
The digital divide, which leaves 14.5 million Americans without Internet access according to the Federal Communications Commission, has long been explained as a matter of economics – vast numbers of people can’t afford Internet service. But since 2020, a global pandemic has made Internet use a requirement for many workers and students. Particular fields like healthcare incorporated what is known as Telehealth: the provision of healthcare remotely by means of telecommunications technology. For safety reasons people weren’t allowed to have face to face appointments with their doctors because of the surge of the Corona virus. This created a problem for those of low-income, many of whom were Black and Brown, didn’t have a computer or adequate cell phone and couldn’t afford the Wi-Fi connection.
Racism as one on the leading social determinants has been identified as a key factor in making the digital divide real a fact of life in America. In 2016, Free Press released a report entitled DIGITAL DENIED showing that disparities in broadband adoption – commonly known as the Digital Divide – are caused not only by economic inequality but by systemic racial discrimination.
Much of the divide is economic - there are vast numbers of people of every racial background who are on the far side of the Digital Divide because they are struggling financially. HOWEVER, the Free Press report showed that, in addition, a series of systematic barriers that fall along racial lines often shut out people of color, including use of credit checks to sign on with Internet providers and differences in exposure to Internet access in schools and workplaces.
The “Digital Divide” disparity: Corona virus burden
Those suffering on the far side of the digital divide - without broadband access to information - are at a huge disadvantage. The Corona virus pandemic brought those broadband lessons to life. People now need broadband access for remote jobs. Children need it for school. With hospitals and clinics overflowing, Telehealth is essential for treating illness and maintaining health. Communications technology and information make a dramatic difference in quality of life. Internet access is essential to everyday living including health care, education, job development, childcare, nutrition and all aspects of life.
The digital divide is also widened by the QUALITY of Internet access. Lower-performance computers, lower-quality or high-priced connections, difficulty of obtaining technical assistance and lack of ability to afford the cost of connections also affects many people.
Even with schools re-opening as Corona virus vaccinations rise, in many communities there are challenges to gaining physical access to computers. There may be few if any computer labs open to the public. Not every community center has a lab. Even libraries generally have a limited number of computers. Cuts to city and town budgets often limit library hour.
In many cities and other areas with high poverty rates, Wi-Fi isn’t available to teachers or students. Lack of computer access to the Internet is a serious problem for long-term computer literacy and staying abreast of the opportunities life offers. Teens who need an online connection must seek out alternatives to fill out job and college applications, complete homework assignments and stay connected to the outside world. They may seek out people with “hot spot” phones and pay for their use or walk miles for a Wi-Fi connection.
Harnessing government, private sector and non-profit resources
“Having fast, reliable Internet access is a basic human right,” said Susan Crawford, telecommunications policy expert and former White House official. “It makes zero sense that in this nation people are not able to do schoolwork or conduct basic communication.” Crawford said many people cannot afford even a very standard connection.
What is being done? Spurred by the pandemic, efforts are being made. In 2021 the FCC approved an emergency subsidy for low-income households to get high-speed internet as an effort to bridge the digital divide. The program is using $3.2 billion allocated in the COVID relief bill to bring internet service to American families for distance learning, work and digital health care. FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said: “This will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a Wi-Fi signal for remote learning.”
More help is needed. Government, the private sector and non-profit community groups must collaborate and work together to ensure that high quality online communication is available to everyone. What strategies is US implementing?
United Senergy tackles the Digital Divide
- Technology Conferences – US joins with established tech companies, start-ups, dotcoms to bring the latest technology to people and communities.
- Tech for YOU! – partnerships with local non-profits, schools, universities, tech stores, sponsors, corporate businesses to bring computer labs and equipment – desktops, laptops, tablets – to consumers who can’t afford to buy them.
- KIDS On-Line – a technology conference for children and teens – celebrities, exciting equipment, emphasis on innovation and creativity via the high-tech world.
- Digital Divide Round Table – information technology experts, economists, science-technology reporters and those on either side of the digital divide sit down together to discuss the current situation, its impact on peoples’ lives and how to narrow the gap while offering greater technology-based opportunities to all.
- US Website Tech Info Center – how to access everything the world wide web has to offer – job search, educational opportunities, things to do, child care, money-saving strategies – using the US Website to achieve your goals!