For most people reading this article, access to high-speed internet is taken for granted – like the air we breathe. But for many people in the world, that’s not the case. Globally, 45% of households do not have an internet connection, according to UNESCO. Even in the U.S., 27% of adults do not use broadband internet at home, according to Pew Research. (In a 2019 study, Microsoft found the percentage to be even higher.)
This is the digital divide, and it’s a top-of-mind issue for the industry leaders who make up the Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council.
“[Internet] access is the divide between the haves and have nots.” ~ iMasons Advisory Council member Click to tweet
This is the second in a series of blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during our Spring 2020 Advisory Council meeting and Global Member Summit. Attendees included senior-level end users and partners from across the digital infrastructure ecosystem. The Advisory Council meetings are private, closed door affairs and comments made there aren’t attributed publicly.
Consequences of the digital divide
Access to high-speed internet (or lack thereof) impacts nearly every aspect of a person’s life, including educational opportunities, job opportunities, and access to healthcare. The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating the digital divide, and its consequences are even more severe now that the world is relying on digital infrastructure to a much greater extent.
The COVID-19 crisis has also driven financial benefits for some companies while decimating others – creating a different kind of ‘digital divide’ that is no less impactful. As one Advisory Council member explained, “Look at the stock valuations of our companies. While the rest of world is falling to crap, some of our companies are at all-time highs. That will drive an even larger disparity in terms of the haves and have nots.”
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper about the fact that 20% of California schoolchildren (nearly 1.2 million) can’t access the internet at home, Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, said “COVID-19 is a public health crisis. But it’s also revealed other crises like the technology gap that has persisted for too long, leading to opportunity and achievement gaps for California’s students.”
At the iMasons Advisory Council meeting, one member said he was shocked when he learned how many kids in the U.S. have no internet access. “Ensuring access for all could be a great mission for Infrastructure Masons to undertake,” he said.
Another member concurred. “What can we do proactively to enable more technology at the school level? Because as a parent it takes a lot of stress away if you know your child can continue to learn.”
The digital divide is certainly consequential when it impacts what is supposed to be the great equalizer –education. But in healthcare, the consequences of a lack of high-speed internet access can literally be life-threatening. (That’s why, In May 2017, the American Medical Informatics Association urged the U.S. government to recognize broadband access as a social determinant to health.)
Businesses, too, can be affected. “The digital divide impacts not only kids and seniors,” said one member. “It affects businesses right now too. There are technology tools we can’t get into business owners’ hands right now because they don’t have internet access.”
Beyond access, training on how to use technology tools is essential. One Advisory Council member shared that his wife works for a healthcare organization, managing a team whose responsibility includes telehealth. “Even in homes with internet, when it’s an older demographic they might have no idea how to use what’s in front of them. So it’s access but also training on how to use the technology.”
“The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating the divide between those who have access to digital infrastructure, and all the opportunities it offers, and those who do not.” Click to tweet
Neutralizing the digital divide
Just as the COVID-19 crisis is worsening the digital divide, it also presents an opportunity for Infrastructure Masons to give back – to “neutralize” the digital divide, as one Advisory Council member put it – and to make a bigger difference together than any one member could individually.
“I think we’re all going to solve our supply chain problems,” said one member. “We’re figuring out how to build data centers in a COVID-19 world. Those are problems we’ll solve individually.” But bridging the digital divide, “that’s one of the bigger issues that we can’t solve as individuals.”
“Dean’s leadership has always been about giving back,” explained another member. (Dean Nelson is the founder and chairman of Infrastructure Masons.) “We have the opportunity to be the first industry to align on doing good at global scale. We’re in the midst of a crisis but I’m excited about that opportunity. It’s a good thing we can use the iMasons platform for.”
“Bridging the digital divide is one of the bigger issues that we’ll have to work together to solve.” Click to tweet
Check out these blog posts for more insights from the Spring 2020 Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting and Global Member Summit:
- The Impact of COVID-19 on Digital Infrastructure
- Our Sustainability Vision: Every Click Improves the Future
- Fireside Chat with Google’s Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt
- Fireside Chat with Microsoft Corporate VP Noelle Walsh-Elwell
- Industry Leaders from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Switch Talk Sustainability
And there’s more to come, so check back soon!