Many of us are plagued with the stress of constantly being “connected” and are looking for opportunities to unplug and take a break from continuously being available for phone calls, texts, and email.
However, many live in rural communities and have the opposite problem. They are desperately trying to connect. Bridging the digital divide boils down to access, education, and practical application.
People without internet access have limited participation in the digital economy and have less capacity to complete important and often required tasks. For a moment, consider how many times a day you look up something routine on the internet, like a phone number, address, or directions. Did you know Google answers 3.5 billion searches worldwide per day?
Now imagine that smart phones disappeared for a day. Some of us wouldn’t be able to function because printed phone books or maps aren’t handy anymore. Day to day office functions rely so heavily on email and texting that if the internet or a cell tower goes down, work nearly comes to a standstill for the day.
There are definitely benefits to not being so tightly tethered, but local and national leaders have acknowledged serious ramifications for communities – and parts of communities – that are essentially digitally invisible in a global society that is more and more interdependent and connected each day. The extent of our broadband infrastructure determines the future vibrancy of our towns.
Internet access can change the expected outcomes of poverty for our most vulnerable populations who run the risk of being on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Already burdened with diminished life expectancy, higher chances of health issues and an increased risk of becoming a victim of a crime or violence, this part of our community is not only overlooked but becoming forgotten. As more of our city services are offered exclusively online, including job applications, the existing gap is widening and further isolating this portion of our population.
But digital exclusion comes with a high cost. Economic and talent development have been linked to access to technology. Many areas currently feel the impact of an unqualified, disconnected workforce.