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Bridges: Finding your Path on the Digital Divide

by Reagan Williams

(Source: Pexels, Ola Dapo)

We live in a world that is constantly evolving every day. Our way of life is impacted by our environment, people, technology, and staying connected to the world at large. How can we adjust to the swift technological advances as people in this digital age?

For instance, can you use email? Are you able to copy and paste files in Microsoft Word or know how to use an Excel spreadsheet? If you answered “yes,” to these questions then you have suitable skills for the workforce. However, if you answered “no,” unfortunately these IT skills are what employers expect you to already have in this modern day workforce. Today’s employers expect you to possess technological skills regardless if you do not have access to computer devices. How do people obtain IT skills that require computer equipment without internet access? The traditional method is to obtain a library card in New York, Philadelphia, or at your local library by applying online versus filling out a paper application.

(Source: Pexels, Anna Shvets)

Since, COVID-19 shows the magnitude of the “digital divide” has exacerbated the unequal access of technology for Americans in the United States as a societal problem. The digital divide exists in different capacities from cities to rural areas; the educated and uneducated; socioeconomic groups, less developed nations and globally. Schools and universities have grappled with providing computers, hotspots and other equipment to students. While workers from under-represented populations are unable to apply for work and go for in person interviews as more companies have transitioned to virtual interviews. In 1934, the “universal service concept,” was enacted in the 1934 Communications Act. According to the FCC, the universal service is a principle that all Americans should have access to communications services. In the 21st Century, the Internet is considered an essential communications technology and is working on making broadband as readily available as voice service.

As the pandemic progresses, the digital divide is impacting various pockets of the United States from tribal communities, rural America, families and students. College students are increasingly facing economic hardships from a recent survey conducted by Course Hero. Besides worrying about food and rent, access to computer devices, and wifi are considered to be essential and rounded out their lists of needs. Only 20% of students have received any type of government, unemployment benefits or financial assistance from their families during the pandemic. As of now, the age range for enrolled students in college or graduate school are between the ages of 20-34. One university that is trying to eliminate the digital divide is USC, who is partnering with California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF). CEFT is a nonprofit foundation that focuses on digital equity in the state and has been following California’s progress with the expansion of the internet infrastructure. According to a survey in 2019, 1 in 8 California households do not have access to broadband. This number was significant in households earning less than $20,000 per year, adults 65 and over, and adults with no high school credentials.

(Source: Pexels, Deva Darshan)

Furthermore, the digital divide impact stretches across the country to students in rural areas furthering the group of individuals that are considered the “haves vs. have nots” of broadband. The physical aspects of America's landscape pose challenges in terms of the cost to invest in infrastructure. Similarly, 47% of rural students have high-speed internet access at home in comparison to 77% of suburban students from research conducted at Michigan State University. Currently, Democrats are working on legislation that would allocate $94 billion for accessible and affordable broadband internet access nationwide. The goal for the Accessible Affordable Internet for All Act is to bring internet service to parts of the country where it doesn’t exist, improve slow network speeds and connectivity, and to ensure low-income families can afford service.

Despite proactive legislation, what can you do to “close the gap” if you are experiencing ramifications of the digital divide? There are well-known companies providing discounted internet options for K-12 students through university students e.g., AT&T, Xfinity, and Spectrum. Next, the FCC has a program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit to aid households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic and connect different households to jobs, healthcare services and virtual classrooms. Maybe, you live in a community with limited broadband services and want to figure out a solution. BroadbandUSA is a program that expands broadband capacity and fosters digital inclusion to communities across America. Lastly, if you want to compare internet services within your area, try allconnect, a website that sources the best providers and compares internet speeds, pricing and features from 30 of America’s providers. Consequently, the digital divide continues to become more of a reality for many people today, but you need to continue to create and find solutions for your own digital access.

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Equity is the New Equality


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