Bridge the Digital Divide in Five Steps

Bridge the digital divide

Bridge the Digital Divide in Five Steps

Five for Friday: Five Steps to Bridge the Digital Divide

The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for connectivity and exposed the digital divide in many of our communities. Internet connectivity has become so important that many would now consider broadband to be a public utility. With the Internet being a necessity to learn, work and engage in today’s world, we must make sure all communities have access to this critical resource. Unfortunately, a wide digital divide exists in many communities, where certain segments of the population either cannot access or cannot afford high-speed connectivity.

The City of New Orleans is a case in point. In many ways a smart city, New Orleans has long focused on identifying problems, gathering data, and designing solutions through an equity lens. The data show that an average of about 25% of residents do not have access to the Internet at home. The problem is even worse in minority neighborhoods, where over 50% of residents do not have access to broadband. In the Uptown area, where the majority of residents are white, 92% of residents have access at home. In New Orleans East, where the vast majority of residents are black, only 48% of residents have broadband at home. You can visit our blog posts for a deeper dive into the history of digital redlining in New Orleans.  Sadly, these disparities clearly show a stark digital divide separating black from white, rich from poor.

We know there are solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, incumbent providers do not see a business case in digital equity. This is what spurred VERGE Internet’s founders Christopher Wolff and Jonathan Rhodes to action. With new technology and networking advances, there is a way to bridge the divide and provide Internet for All. Here are five important steps to bridge the divide:

1) Increase Affordability, and Accessibility.

We need to make connectivity more affordable, and accessible. First, we can use new technology and networking strategies to dramatically lower the cost of products for users, rather than maintain the status quo. The federal government is doing its part to ensure that all residents can afford a plan through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which provides a $30 monthly benefit for qualifying residents and up to $50 for residents on tribal lands. However, we must ensure that these residents have access to an Internet Service Provider in the first place by building technology infrastructure for the future.

2) Building Internet Infrastructure, and Competition.

Even after we ensure affordability, we must ensure that the infrastructure is in place to connect people in both urban and rural communities. This means building middle-mile and last mile high-speed networks, as well as wireless infrastructure to quickly deploy to those in need. We cannot rely on the status quo to put affordable, accessible services in place. Increasing competition by encouraging new entrants to the market will reduce costs and improve services.

3) Improve Digital Literacy

With access and affordability, we can expect more people to get online. But we must also empower users by promoting digital literacy. This can be done through collaborations with nonprofit, educational and community organizations that understand community needs and can engage stakeholders. By helping users understand how to use devices, understand content and navigate online, we will empower them to cross the digital divide and access opportunity.

4) Distribute Connected Devices

We cannot expect to bridge the divide if our people cannot effectively connect. While most people have a mobile phone, these devices are not adequate for critical uses, such as learning, working and engaging in economic opportunity. Cities can work with private companies and nonprofits to refurbish and distribute connected devices in the community.

5) Address Race and Gender Gaps

With devices in hand, and affordable high-speed Internet available, there remain systemic forces that may prevent large segments of the population from bridging the divide. For example, statistics worldwide show that fewer women are online then men, particularly in developing countries. The same is true of minority communities here in the United States. Emphasis must be put on breaking down systemic obstacles for those who are traditionally disconnected.

Contributors: Jonathan Rhodes and Christopher Wolff founded VERGE Internet to develop broadband and smart city solutions that promote digital equity and provide Internet for All. The views expressed in these blog posts are solely those of the contributors, aimed at fostering conversation and collaboration at the intersection of community and connectivity.

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  • Five most disconnected cities - and what to do about it. - Verge Internet Reply

    […] VERGE Internet is committed to helping communities bridge the digital divide so that all can have access to the benefits of highspeed Internet where they live, work and engage. We’ve set out a number of strategies in a previous blog post aimed at Five Strategies to Bridge the Digital Divide. […]

    July 25, 2022 at 5:24 pm

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