A Digital Divide
COVID-19 continues to expose pre-existing issues. While our human development has undeniably advanced through each phase of the industrial revolution, more work remains to be done. The first industrial revolution delivered mechanization — and yet 600 million people still do not benefit from it. The second revolution brought us sanitation, clean water, and electricity, and yet 3.6 billion people still lack one or more of those innovations. The third revolution brought us the internet and all things digital — and yet 3.7 billion people do not have access to the Internet. This Article by Douglas Broom states that the majority live in poorer countries, where the need to spread information about how to combat COVID-19 is most urgent. The issue was there, now it is likely to get more attention.
Even in places like the United States, 21 million people lack access — and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that estimate is likely understated. Additionally, Microsoft President Brad Smith indicates that research for the company’s rural internet project suggests more than 157 million Americans don’t use the internet at broadband speeds. A survey commissioned by Microsoft and the National 4-H Council found that 20 percent of rural youth lack access to broadband at home. The Fiber Broadband Association estimated that it will cost $70 billion to bring fiber-optic networks to 90 percent of the US by 2025. As bad as the pandemic has been, technology seemed to be shining a light through the haze. However, with more than one billion children across the globe locked out of classrooms because of quarantine measures, these issues of access keep them from joining online classes that teachers are running daily.
According to this recent Wired Article by Klint Finley, the millions of people who lack reliable broadband internet in the US either can’t afford it or it is unavailable where they live. Mr. Finley states; “this digital divide has always left the unconnected with fewer educational and economic opportunities.” Now, those without broadband are struggling to access schoolwork, job listings, unemployment benefit applications, and the video chat services that would enable them to stay in touch with friends and family. As Mr. Broom indicated in the previous article, those that lack connectivity cannot access telemedicine, and although remote work has helped some, not everyone is able to connect. Those that can connect are affected by the sheer volume of people using the web. The article indicates that US-based M-Labs, which monitors global internet speeds, says that in spite of reassurances from internet service providers, broadband speeds have been slowing in some areas.
COVID-19 may serve as an accelerant, driving more urgency behind efforts to connect the world. The question: does it do the same for the digital agenda of organizations? The bright lights of our current situation likely serve as an Accelerant for that too.
For additional thoughts on the pandemic, see my previous posts.
Originally published at http://frankdiana.net on May 1, 2020.