America is facing another problem, a pressing one that they usually overlook – its gaping digital divide. President Biden is setting aside $65 million, spread over eight years, to fix the problem.
However, Harvard Business Review’s article, “How to Close the Digital Divide in the U.S.,” says that this falls short of what is required to address this pressing issue, including the administration goal to future-proof and update the nation’s broadband to enable steaming videos and online conferencing.
Although the situation might appear simple on the surface, the underlying reasons for the digital gap are complex.
Across the states, differences in the availability of internet infrastructure, the need for internet access, affordability, and digital proficiency of users varies widely, according to the article.
Mentioned in the article is the research initiative, “Imagining a Digital Economy for All (IDEA),” that evaluated all 50 states based on four key components, namely:
- Internet infrastructure;
- Inclusivity which includes affordability and access;
- Institutions which consists of the government’s use of technology for public service and strategy on broadband solutions; and
- Digital proficiency. It shows the states that score high on all four categories and those at the bottom of the list signifying inadequate or no access to the internet.
The lack of internet access compounds other social inequities and historical injustices. It deprives essential services to residents like telehealth services – an online consultation with a health professional and education to those students forced to study from home due to the pandemic. According to the report, one in 5 teens has unreliable access to the internet.
Statistics show that teens without internet access belong to African American, Hispanic, and indigenous communities, affecting their digital literacy, academic achievement, and later employment opportunities.
Internet access or lack of it also has economic costs. According to a Deloitte study mentioned in the report, access to the internet can create additional jobs and allow people to shift to remote work, spreading talent and economic benefits around the country.
There is a lot at stake when it comes to providing internet access across communities in the U.S. It could also even out economic and social inequalities and access to essential services like healthcare and education.
The articles offer the following ideas to fix the digital divide, including where to get the budget, highlighting the need for collaboration and leadership between all levels of government and between private sectors. These solutions include the following:
- taxing big tech’s revenues from social media and digital video ads,
- prioritize investment in States with the lowest scores on 4 key measurements,
- recruiting big tech and internet providers to use their resources and assets to close the gap,
- promote public-private partnerships to achieve connection goals in specific areas and communities,
- update and expand existing funding programs to expand connection in schools and low-income household,
- invest in simultaneous construction of internet infrastructure, and lastly,
- invest in digital literacy from young kids to adults.
The pandemic has revealed the digital divide among communities; the lack of digital access highlights social inequalities and gaps like other vital resources and services.
Providing internet access coupled with digital literacy education to vulnerable communities can reduce disparities and open opportunities to communities that most need it.
Asset management can help achieve this goal by providing analysis and solutions regarding quantifying present and future demands and advising the most cost-efficient way to meet them.
While also ensuring that the internet infrastructure continues to provide the expected level of service throughout its life and even extending service life through implementing asset management strategies.