The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the digital divide in the US, leaving more than 40 million Americans without internet access and unable to work, attend school, or get basic necessities from home. This problem has troubled cities and towns for years, but with little momentum toward a solution, until now.
Rural areas are expanding broadband internet access, while cities are working to make connecting more affordable for those who have been left behind. In Ohio, for example, getting people connected breaks down broadly into two buckets: bringing internet access to places it has never been before and making service more affordable where it already exists.
In rural areas, solutions often come out of small, local efforts. One individual in western Virginia figured out how to build his own small internet service provider, providing high-speed wireless broadband to 20 families on a mountaintop that didn’t have any internet access.
In America’s big cities, the issue is most often a matter of making internet subscriptions affordable and accessible. Detroit, a city with one of the sharpest digital divides in the country, launched a response that would lead to permanent connections. The Detroit Public Schools Foundation began sending out 51,000 computer tablets, one for every public school student in the district. The devices come with a six-month internet plan and technical support. After six months, families will be transitioned to low-cost internet plans that are available in the city of Detroit. If a family says that they cannot afford that plan, Detroit Public Schools Community District is willing to cover that cost.
In American history, services such as public education and the Post Office were created to make sure they were available to everyone. However, the country hasn’t brought the same ethos to broadband. Crises change society, and the opportunity here is to recognize that broadband is absolutely essential. People need to make their voices heard about the kind of broadband they require.
The digital divide and the knowledge-gap hypothesis are related. As the digital divide widens, the knowledge-gap hypothesis suggests that it contributes to the inequality of information between a high-income group and a low-income group. In turn, this gap leads to a widening knowledge gap and social inequality, which may lead to poverty and exclusion. Therefore, it is essential to bridge the digital divide to maintain equality and social harmony.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of bridging the digital divide. The solutions to this problem differ for rural areas and big cities, but both require multiple solutions. The key is to recognize that broadband is absolutely essential and make it available to everyone.