The interaction between computer devices and humans has increased tenfold in the last 20 years - with more and more people needing internet services for basic needs - such as working from home or the office, studying or staying up to date with the latest news and trends. And since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic - the need for internet and digital literacy is even more important.
But the Digital Divide is still massive - with more people from low income households and rural areas not having access to reliable internet connectivity.
But what is it, how does it affect people, and how can we bridge the Digital Divide, offering reliable internet access and broadband solutions to both rural and urban areas? HomeLinkd dives deeper.
The Digital Divide is the gap between those with regular, reliable access to the internet and those who don’t have such access.
This gap is often socioeconomic - with people from low-income brackets or rural areas less likely to have access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet.
But the effects of the Digital Divide are far-reaching and affect more than just a family’s ability to get online. The consequences can limit social mobility, prolong inequality and impede economic growth.
According to the PEW Research Center, "About four-in-ten adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services (43%) or a desktop or laptop computer (41%)."
There are countless examples of how not having access to the internet can hold people back - especially in the midst of a global pandemic where so many day-to-day tasks have moved online. Here are some real-life examples:
A family from a low-income household with children in school may not be able to afford the high price of the internet, meaning the kids can’t do their homework or participate in online classes.
Without internet access at home, this puts them at an educational disadvantage from the get-go and could have long-term implications for their future.
An unemployed person looking for work may lack broadband access making it difficult to apply for jobs, create a professional email address or develop an online profile.
In a world where more and more businesses are moving online, this lack of access can make it harder for someone to find gainful employment.
An elderly person living alone may not have anyone to help them set up internet connections or use basic computer applications - thus not being a part of digital inclusion without a broadband connection.
This can lead to feelings of isolation and social exclusion - as they’re unable to keep up with family and friends or access important news and information.
The US government has allocated approximately $65 billion in federal broadband funding to help close the gap and give internet access to millions of Americans.
There are many factors that are currently affecting the Digital Divide in the United States. Here are a few of the most pressing ones:
The high price of internet services - with many providers offering low-cost or free options to low-income families, but only if they qualify for certain government assistance programs.
The lack of available infrastructure in rural areas - with only about 60% of households in rural communities having access to high-speed internet compared to 89% of urban households.
A general lack of computer literacy - with one study finding that nearly 40% of adults in the US don’t have the basic digital skills needed to perform tasks like sending an email or using search engines.
Broadband infrastructure - the US is currently ranked 9th in the world for broadband speeds, behind countries like South Korea, Norway and Sweden. The internet infrastructure in the US is also not as widely available as it is in other countries - with only about 80% of households having access to broadband speeds of 25Mbps or higher.
High-speed internet access can play a big role in bridging the Digital Divide.
By making it more affordable and accessible to low-income households and rural areas, we can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the digital world.
But it’s not just about providing people with access to the internet. We also need to focus on computer literacy - helping people develop the skills they need to use the internet effectively.
This is especially important for young people, as they are growing up in a world where technology is becoming increasingly prevalent. By teaching them how to use the internet responsibly and safely, we can help them thrive in a digital world.
The government is taking a number of steps to address the Digital Divide and provide broadband access and digital access to more households.
In February 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) - a group of experts who are working to find ways to improve broadband access in the United States.
The BDAC is expected to release its recommendations later this year. And while it’s still too early to say what they will be, it’s clear that the government is committed to finding ways to improve broadband access in the United States.
The FCC has also launched a number of initiatives aimed at making high-speed internet more affordable and accessible. The Lifeline program, for example, provides discounts on broadband services for low-income households.
And the Connect America Fund is working to expand broadband access in rural areas to help close the Digital Divide and support digital technology.
There are a number of things you can do to help bridge the Digital Divide. Here are some of the most important ones:
Educate yourself about the issue - by understanding more about the Digital Divide, you can be better equipped to help close the gap.
Share your knowledge with others - raising awareness about the issue is an important step in finding solutions.
Support initiatives that aim to improve broadband access - whether it’s through financial donations or simply spreading the word, every little bit helps.
If you have high-speed internet access, use it to connect with and help others - whether it’s teaching someone how to use the internet or providing them with access to resources, you can make a difference.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) current definition of broadband is 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. But as our dependence on the internet has increased, so too has the need for higher speeds.
Many experts now recommend that Americans should have access to speeds of at least 50 - 100 Mbps for reliable broadband access. This would allow for multiple devices to be used simultaneously without any lag or buffering - making it possible to work from home, stream movies and music, and play online games without any issues.
To close the Digital Divide, we need to make sure that everyone has access to high-speed internet - no matter where they live or how much money they make. Only then can we create a level playing field where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
There are a few options available for low-income households to get access to high-speed internet:
The FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program offers discounts on internet services for low-income households.
Many internet service providers offer low-cost or free internet options to qualifying households.
Some states and local governments have programs that provide free or discounted internet access to low-income residents.
In order to qualify for the ACP, you should:
- SNAP (formerly known as food stamps)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Section 8 housing assistance
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- National School Lunch Program's Free and Reduced Price Meal program
If you don’t qualify for any of these programs, you may still be eligible for the ACP if your household income is at or below 80% of your state’s median income.
There are many internet service providers who offer low-cost or free internet options to qualifying households.
Providers such as AT&T, CenturyLink, Cox and Frontier offer low-priced plans suitable for low-income users.
And lastly, there are a number of non-profit organizations that provide free or low-cost internet access to low-income households - such as EveryoneOn, Connect2Compete and the FCC’s Accessible Communications Initiative.
There are a few things that can be done to improve computer literacy in the United States:
1. Offer more computer classes and training opportunities - whether it’s through community centers, public libraries or online courses.
2. Make sure that all schools are teaching digital literacy as part of their curriculum.
3. Increase funding for programs that help low-income households get access to computers and the internet.
4. Encourage businesses to provide computer literacy training for their employees.
5. Help people understand how to use the internet safely and responsibly - including understanding privacy settings and being aware of cyber threats like phishing scams and malware.
There are a few ways to close the Digital Divide in rural areas:
1. Improve access to high-speed internet - whether it’s through government assistance programs, working with ISPs or investing in infrastructure projects.
2. Increase computer literacy rates by offering more computer classes and training opportunities.
3. Help businesses in rural areas get online and use digital tools to grow and compete in the global economy.
4. Work with non-profit organizations to provide free or low-cost internet access to low-income households.
5. Encourage people to use the internet responsibly and safely - including understanding privacy settings and being aware of cyber threats like phishing scams and malware.
The home security industry has seen a lot of growth in recent years, and there are a number of different companies to choose from.
Broadband internet has become a need, not a want - therefore ensuring people from all over the US have access to digital equity and pushing forward with broadband expansion in rural areas should be at the top of the list for the government.
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