Broadband availability has been at the heart of the digital divide, with an estimated 21.3 million people lacking access in 2019, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It’s a divide which has been deepened by the pandemic, says Lightbox.
“More than just a lack of internet, broadband availability has to do with the infrastructure needed to connect homes to high speed, reliable internet,” according to a recent Lightbox blog posting. “There need to be enough towers, wires, etc. to make the connection possible. Without this infrastructure, communities need to rely on slower, less reliable methods, such as dial-up, to connect to the internet.”
Lightbox says the pandemic is significantly highlighting the digital divide in these four areas:
• Distance learning. “Most schools across the country introduced distance-learning to their classrooms in response to the pandemic. Using video conference tools like Zoom, teachers and students can interact and learn from the safety of their homes. However, not all are finding the process seamless.
“A lack of internet and a weak connection can make distance-learning frustrating. Dealing with spotty video, missing class due to an outage, kicking others off the home WiFi in the hopes of a better connection, and even going outside the home to find free WiFi are just some of the struggles students and teachers are facing.”
Lower-income families in particular are struggling when trying to get their children online. “These parents say that their children will face digital obstacles while trying to do schoolwork.”
• Telehealth. “Our homes are now replacing exam rooms during the pandemic. Seen as the safest option for most appointments that are not emergencies and do not require a hands-on procedure or exam, telehealth appointments are replacing face-to-face appointments. Like any other video conference, a strong internet connection is required for these appointments. And video-chatting aside, most patients need to download video conference software for their appointment. Some may also need to watch training videos about using that software. Without a stable internet connection to support these activities, seeing your doctor has become more difficult.”
• Remote work. “For employees who can do their work from home, Zoom calls and Slack chats have replaced daily in-person communications at the office. However, an unstable internet connection once again gets in the way for some employees trying to work from the safety of their homes. Unable to fully work remotely, employees who live in broadband dead zones cannot perform vital tasks to complete their jobs.”
• Socializing/staying connected. New online communities have been created during the pandemic, ranging from multi-player Fortnite games to virtual cooking classes. Yet, “without a reliable internet connection, many individuals and families are shut out of these new communities. They can miss out on the support, connection, and feeling of normalcy that these new avenues provide.”
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