Let’s Empower America’s Rural Communities with Greater Access to Broadband and Close the Digital Divide
Today, America’s digital divide persists, and in 2022 we have a big opportunity to close the gap.
The Digital Divide
The digital divide refers to the gap between regions and communities that have access to modern information and communications technology and those that don’t. A recent FCC Broadband Report found that roughly six percent of the country, which equals 19 million people, still lack access to broadband Internet, also making it difficult to leverage the devices and applications that require such Internet to perform optimally.
The major shift to work from home (WFH) and remote work has highlighted this lack of access to high-speed broadband Internet service in some parts of the U.S., especially rural America. When it comes to rural areas these numbers are even worse, with the same report finding that roughly a quarter of all rural area population, approximately 14.5 million people, are without access to broadband Internet.
While in past years access to the Internet was seen as a luxury, the digitalization of various industries over the course of the quarantine has made high-speed Internet access essential to everybody. You don’t have to possess or aspire to a career in tech to be affected by the digital divide, as the impacts of the phenomenon reach many people in several important ways.
The rise of digitalization has also helped telehealth become a more widespread practice, as it allows elderly and other immune-deficient people to consult with a healthcare professional without having to leave their homes.
For those on the wrong side of the digital divide, however, there have been serious related effects, including not being able to secure appointments, an inability to get a prescription refilled, and void of virtual health visits that are encumbered and obstructed due to poor broadband service.
The Rise of Digitalization
Healthcare isn’t the only industry affected by the digital divide, as the shift to online learning has proven to be difficult for students of all ages. As education is increasingly delivered online, those without the resources to access the Internet can be cut off from opportunities to develop their skills. As a result, children may have educational gaps, and adults may miss out on job opportunities or be unable to gain the basic skills necessary to contribute to their community.
Bottom line, America’s digital divide affects the workforce or employees in any industry that is currently undergoing digitalization. The rapid pace at which technology and required technology skills are advancing in the workplace is leaving behind workers without digital skills, access to the Internet and computing devices. This in turn, is also having an impact on businesses efficiency and competitiveness, as a digitally uneducated workforce, while not purposely, does slow down production.
Because of the current interest in these issues, both among governments and the public, as well as the continuing dominance of technology, concerted efforts have begun to bridge the digital divide and bring high-speed Internet access to all.
Bridging the Digital Gap
Some non-profit groups, such as One Laptop Per Child, have taken to providing Internet access and laptops to school districts and areas with Internet users of a lower-income level. They don’t stop there either, as these groups also set up programs to teach the laptop users digital skills, so that they can properly use the equipment, and optimally benefit from the use of technology.
However, the most notable of programs and efforts being made to close the digital divide comes in the form of the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Passed in November of 2021, the many-faceted bill takes dead aim at reducing the digital divide by providing $65 billion to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas of America.
Providers who accept the funds are required to offer a low-cost, affordable plan to consumers and display a broadband nutrition label, which will allow people to comparison-shop for the best offer. It also mandates that the Federal Communications Commission must adopt rules prohibiting digital redlining and creates a permanent new perk to help low-income households access the Internet in the form of an affordable connectivity benefit, for which more than one-fourth of American households will be eligible.
Overall, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on digital technologies, these consequences are likely to become more serious and widespread. It is incumbent upon societies to address the digital divide in a holistic way that recognizes its many aspects and negative outcomes.
Ribbon has supported service providers in rural communities across America for decades. We are committed to this important mission and encourage all to join forces to – once and for all – level the playing field and fuel economic growth and opportunities while bringing vital services to Americans regardless of where they happen to live.