The Digital Divide and the Pandemic: Working from Home and Broadband and Internet Access

The COVID-19 public health crisis has acutely and maybe even permanently changed the way many of us work. The future of the work environment is still unknown but we are increasingly seeing a future where telework, telelearning, and telehealth are valuable commodities for public health and economic resilience. However, short- and long-term investments are critical to improving our current state of work and internet access, both through broadband and increased affordability. Below are some suggestions.

Short-term responses

  • Expand access via hotspot accessibility. Turn cellular data plans into permanent hotspots to increase household access to the internet.
  • Create partnerships with school systems and business community to loan out tech equipment like laptops, desktops, tablets, and other devices to help communities and households that are largely dependent upon cell data for access get internet access.

Long-term investments

  • Invest further in broadband access at the national and state levels. This investment could be in the form of public employment, changes to legislation to allow for easier installation of broadband in regions of need, and continued and enhanced Community Reinvestment Act incentives to financially support tech infrastructure in communities.
  • Offer formula stipends for internet service subscriptions. This calculation could look similar to determining the free and reduced lunch rate for lower economic status students.

The lack of broadband and internet access in many communities was a problem that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. The deficit will continue to exacerbate the digital divide and the nation’s ability to have an inclusive economic recover in the emerging work-from-home environment. The approaches this article suggests could help limit the prevalence of remote work deserts and address technological disadvantages for rural and lower socioeconomic populations. The nation’s response to the pandemic has shed a bright light on the need for improved technology and access. Ensuring that we have a system that provides widespread broadband services and lowers barriers to internet access is critical for our economic recovery and the mobility of our workforce.

The Digital Divide and the Pandemic: Working from Home and Broadband and Internet Access