Broadband access is finally getting the attention it has always needed. But even this is not enough.
A survey conducted in November 2019 by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration takes a look at the digital divide– which refers to the gap between individuals’, households’, and businesses’ opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to use the Internet for a wide variety of activities. Black, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are disproportionately affected by this divide.
The consequences of the digital divide have been exacerbated during the pandemic creating the “homework gap” and limiting who can work remotely, both of which have adverse effects on vulnerable communities.
Hispanic and African Americans were 7 percent less likely to access the Internet than white Americans. In comparison, Asian Americans were 4 percent less likely to access the Internet than white Americans.
But access to reliable broadband addresses is only half the problem. We must also invest in data literacy and education.
The American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”
Structural and infrastructural inequities have hindered data literacy. Hence, low-income (and) minority households are being left behind when it comes to digital literacy.
A study by Deutsche Bank notes that Blacks and Hispanics are roughly ten years behind Whites in levels of broadband access, and almost four times more Blacks have poor Tech connectivity than Whites. Figure 1 shows how the lack of broadband access will affect job readiness for Blacks and Hispanics.
Figure 1. Consequences of the Digital Divide for Job Readiness for Blacks and African Americans
Public health professionals have cited internet access as a significant determining factor of health (outcomes). It is nearly impossible to research, find resources and treatment for health conditions, communicate with medical personnel, or access electronic medical records without internet access.
This digital divide was pronounced as many tried to schedule Covid-19 vaccines. The elderly did not have the access or (digital) skills to schedule online appointments and had to lean on family members or external organizations for assistance.
Sustainable, reliable, and robust broadband access is just as important as digital literacy. Both are necessary for equitable growth and the financial and physical well-being of marginalized communities and vulnerable populations.
Will Congress make the largest (to date) federal investment into broadband? We have to wait and see.