The Case for Digital Equity

by Emily Wolfteich – Industry Analyst

Who are we leaving offline – and behind? 

So with almost every part of our lives somehow connected to the internet – not only connected but only available with internet access, in some cases – how can we make sure that we are not leaving those without reliable access behind?

Digital Equity

Ensuring digital equity includes:

  • Ensuring digital literacy, meaning the skills to use technology to find information and communicate effectively;
  • Achieving widespread broadband access, including and especially in rural areas;
  • Building holistic digital equity ecosystems where programs and policies exist that aim to address all aspects of the digital divide.

Like other forms of equity, the purpose is to make sure that everyone has equal access to participation in society, even the virtual version.

The consequences of a digitally unequal society

Not being able to access the internet is no longer just a nuisance. It’s a significant handicap; not only in negative outcomes for existing opportunities, like schoolwork or Zoom calls, but depriving people of future opportunities that could help them socially and economically.

Impacts on all levels of educational access

Decreased or missed economic opportunities

Exclusion of rural areas

Exclusion of historically marginalized groups

Building Broadband to Cross the Divide

The expansion of broadband access is crucial to building a digitally equitable society, but the simple existence of broadband is not enough. Leaders and policymakers must consider how to build broadband strategies that also address:

Broadband strategies must be made intentionally. It does no one any good if broadband is available but unaffordable for most of the region, or speeds are too slow to attend work meetings. Developing broadband strategies requires thoughtful planning – and a little creativity.

Connected Care: the VA and Broadband

The VA programs represent a remarkably progressive and proactive approach to shrinking the digital divide and ensuring that veterans have the opportunity to access virtual opportunities. It’s an example that other leaders, at all levels of government and policy-making, should pay attention to. Establishing low-cost, accessible broadband is important – but will take time. What creative methods can we come up with that will reach out to include everyone? 

The long(term) and short(term) of it 

That’s why I find the example of the VA’s Connected Care so inspiring. The VA is looking at all sides of the picture – short term access, long term provision, strategic partnerships, and the overall goal of reaching everyone they can, no matter how far away from a tar road they are. This is how we’re going to achieve digital equity – by meeting everyone where they are, and thinking about how we can bring us all together. 

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