The gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology, and those with very limited or no access at all.
The “digital divide” in the accessibility of telecommunications services remains far too wide — and that current needs give urgency to closing it. A lack of sufficient Internet access is very likely keeping 12 million students from doing distance learning while their schools are closed.And the more that low-income communities are dependent on temporary grace from telecom providers, the more they have to lose when this is all over. New ideas are clearly required.
Although the city of San Jose has neither authority nor budgetary responsibility over our 19 school districts, the city has a moral responsibility to support their critical work. Among the city’s many educational initiatives, it committed to close the digital divide in San Jose by launching the Digital Inclusion Partnership last year, to build digital skills and expand broadband access.
Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with 22 of his Senate colleagues, urged the Department of Treasury to increase its efforts to make Economic Impact Payments available to the most vulnerable populations—including those without access to the internet who cannot file a tax return electronically. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Durbin and the Senators highlighted that at least 21 million Americans are without high-speed internet access and they face a significant barrier in their ability to file a simple tax return online if they are not eligible to receive an automatic payment.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lockdown of millions of people around the world, and New York, where schools have been shut down since March 16, and teachers and students have resorted to distance learning with online classes. But Larissa Rosa, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Public School 7 Samuel Stern in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, said at least 45 of the roughly 400 students at her school haven't logged on once.
Here in Georgia, we believe in second chances. That is why students across the state are rallying to give the University System of Georgia another shot at getting the optional pass/fail policy right. Right now, we are struggling to accommodate the transition to online education. For one, home Wi-Fi rarely works. The University of Georgia has recognized that connectivity and access pose a huge issue for many students, so it has offered to distribute Wi-Fi hotspots. But in some places, cell service is so poor that sometimes texts won’t go through.
As the COVID-19 crisis took hold and schools in Lockhart (TX) had to close and shift to remote learning, the school district quickly conducted a needs assessment. They found that half of their 6,000 students have no high-speed Internet at home. And despite being a short drive south of Austin (TX), a third of all the students and staff live in "dead zones," where Internet and cell service aren't even available. With the help of a local Internet provider, the district is installing seven booster towers outside each of its schools.
The principles we need to connect us were enshrined by a Republican-led Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In the legislation, overwhelmingly approved by both Republicans and Democrats, the law mandates that the Federal Communications Commission to base policies for the preservation and advancement of universal service on principles including:
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the widening digital divide. Roughly one-in-five American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users with no access to home broadband service or laptops. Low-income Americans and communities of color are particularly disadvantaged.
As the world raced to contain COVID-19, it effectively launched a necessary but costly experiment: Move all possible economic activity online to flatten the pandemic’s curve and save lives. But digitally recreating the economy-as-usual has its limits and the “Great Lockdown” comes with devastating economic costs. The digital experience needs fixing. Even as companies slowly return to business as usual, we’ll continue to see record numbers of people working remotely for the foreseeable future.