Broadband is powerful civic tool – for those with access

Francella Ochillo posts in Tech Dirt about the power of a global network…

The internet has increasingly become the public square just as high-speed connectivity has become the lifeblood of our economy. In a post-COVID landscape, when Americans need broadband to work and learn from home and medical attention requires making an appointment online, access impacts our quality of life. It also determines who and how households will recover from the pandemic and its economic fallout.

What’s more, the internet has introduced once unimaginable possibilities for the most disenfranchised voices among us. Standing Rock. Flint. Minneapolis. These movements are a part of our lexicon, in part, because organizers had access to a universal platform, then dared the nation to collectively say her name – equality.

And the barrier that is keeping too many people from fully benefitting from that network…

It is hard to argue with the facts. While remote learning mandates remain in place, six in ten low-income students have to attend online classes via cell phone or search for a public WiFi access point, while others have simply disappeared from their class rosters because they do not have a device to get online. Approximately half of Americans living on Tribal lands and one-third of those living in rural areas still do not have reliable connections. Their job opportunities, online businesses, and remote access to health care have suffered accordingly.

Roughly one-third of African American and Hispanic households struggle with digital access, adoption, and literacy. Deutsche Bank estimates that “76% of Blacks and 62% of Hispanics could get shut out or be underprepared for 86% of jobs in the US by 2045.” Meanwhile, over forty percent of adults at or below the poverty line do not have reliable broadband of any kind.

And a call to governments to do better…

Since the National Broadband Plan was introduced in 2010, we have learned that when the market rewards providers with profits and control, they will come. However, relying on market forces alone cannot ensure that every community has access to broadband, a vital public good as important as electricity or clean water.

Federal policy designed to support broadband deployment strategies were based on the assumption that local and state entities would carry the mantle on increasing adoption. But, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, local and state governments are strapped for resources. Even if they are able to scrape together investments for digital infrastructure and adoption programs, few have adequate resources to do both well.

The digital divide has been relentless and unforgiving in the most under resourced communities, which have concurrently had to combat the threats from the COVID-19 pandemic, economic instability, and food insecurity. Ironically, being able to get online remains most elusive for those in the greatest need of digital pathways out of poverty.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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