Equitable access to connectivity is a vital component of today’s digital economy. To enable the full participation of all people, access to quality, reliable, and secure internet and related technology is essential. But the reality is that not everyone has access to these resources.
We have a long way to go to bridge the divide between those who have access to the technology needed to stay connected in today’s world and those who don’t.
Bridging the digital divide means providing for the inclusion of all people and removing barriers to the information and services that have become necessary to succeed in today’s economy. Successful solutions to this technology gap will bear in mind not only accessibility, but also affordability and the skills needed to thrive in this digital world.
What Is the Digital Divide?
The term “digital divide” refers to the gap between those who have access to modern information and communications technology (ICT) and those who don’t (or who have limited access). ICT can include such components as telephones, televisions, personal computers, and internet connectivity. As you might expect, the rich and educated are more likely to have consistent access to these resources than the poor and undereducated.
The digital divide isn’t a new concept. Prior to the late 20th century, it referred to the gap between those with and without access to telephones. Since the late 1990s, it has been synonymous with the divide between those with and without internet access (more specifically, high speed or broadband internet). Today, around 5 million rural households and 15.3 million urban or metro households in America still don’t have access to broadband internet.
How This Technology Gap Impacts Our Communities
This gap in access to technology affects our communities in a variety of ways. One of the ways this gap has become more evident over the past two years has been in the switch to learning and working from home due to the pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when schools shifted to distance learning, an estimated 9 million students lacked access to both adequate internet and internet-enabled devices. Schools did their best to provide the devices students needed, and teachers spent much of their lesson time instructing students on how to use these tools and access online resources. Nevertheless, this technology gap has significantly affected the way kids are learning today.
And this technological gap isn’t solely due to COVID-19 — the pandemic simply highlighted an already-present lack of resources. A 2019 Pew Internet & American Life Project Report noted that 54% of all teachers said their students had adequate internet access at school. But only 18% said their students had adequate access at home. With the move to virtual learning over the past couple of years, this inadequacy has become glaring.
Inadequate technology can keep kids from learning the skills they need to be successful in today’s economy. It can also keep adults from advancing in their careers.
The same study found that 21 million Americans didn’t have access to high-speed internet. Drilling down deeper, the report stated that 49% of African Americans and 51% of Hispanics had high-speed internet at home, compared with 66% of Caucasians. Internet speed is vital, especially for streaming video. In an age where Zoom calls have become a regular part of the work day (not to mention the interview process), this gap can have a significant effect on a person’s career.
What Is Needed To Bridge the Digital Divide?
Bridging the digital divide will require:
- Providing fast, affordable broadband internet access universally
- Wide distribution of internet-enabled devices
- Technical instruction for the safe and productive use of those devices and the internet itself
- Adequate digital security to ensure the safety of all
Closing this technology gap will not only provide more equitable access to learning and open up career advancement opportunities to underserved communities, it will also improve digital literacy, digital skills, social mobility, and economic equality and growth across the board. It will affect the way we provide healthcare, education, job training, government services, and more to the benefit of every person — especially those in marginalized communities.
Tech Discounts’ Role In Bridging the Digital Divide
One of our goals at Tech Discounts is to help close this gap.
Alongside Tech Dump, we participate in community programs that serve this purpose, such as Techpaks. Techpaks provided computers, internet, and digital literacy training to Ramsey County residents who experienced economic difficulties due to the pandemic. This program also offered workforce training, job referrals, and other employment resources to those who needed it. We were thrilled to partner with them in these efforts.
In addition, Tech Discounts offers the technology our communities need to help bridge the digital divide. Refurbished electronics provide the perfect opportunity to not only care for the environment but also to help put technology into the hands of those who need it at an affordable price.