The Digital Divide is Real

Melissa Obi

There is tremendous power and opportunities that technology provides to communities – particularly historically disenfranchised minority communities.

In this age of technology, “digital exclusion” means that disenfranchised communities, families, and individuals are left farther behind without access to online resources for education, communication and a gateway to a better quality of life.
 
Being left out of the digitized world can prove to be catastrophic for Black families, in terms of financial stability, education, and basic survival. COVID-19 has forced the rise in digital computation to explode, at an astounding rate. We are missing the opportunity to maximize on the skills and talents of those that are not connected – both economically and socially.
 
The good news is that Black people have been adapting to the internet at a faster rate than the general population. However, it is mostly because many are using smartphones as their only gateway to the internet. On the other hand, it is also problematic as Black Americans are less likely to have a desktop computer or laptop along with home broadband access. This causes disparities and inequities in the new world of digitized education, communication and potential access to resources. Imagine writing a school paper or trying to write a résumé on a smartphone. Broadband access has continued to be unaffordable in many Black homes.
 
How can we combat the technology inequities in many Black homes, expand digital inclusiveness and ensure no one is excluded? There are three stages of the digital divide, economic, usability and empowerment. Those obstacles can be resolved by implementing the following solutions.
 

  • increase affordability
  • empower users
  • improve the relevance of online content
  • internet infrastructure development

  
These are focal points that we must champion as a people, collectively. Education and technology is an agenda that is missing from the current political landscape. Why are we not demanding affordability in broadband access? It is a fundamental right in the digitized age. This is further complicated for families with two or more children in school. Often, even if these households have the required technology, they may not have the capability or enough bandwidth to fully educate multiple children.


Almost 29 percent of Black households don’t have the technology in their homes that is available at “all times” to use for online education. But there are more Black households that “rarely” or “never” had a device available for their children to use for online education at all. This was nine percent of all Black households with children in public or private K-12 schools.
 
Only 4.3 percent of white households rarely or never had devices for children to use for online education. This is half the rate for Black households. Students may resort to using their phones as hotspots and quickly run out of access. The digital divide is real! We have much work to do.
 
If you or anyone you know is having issues with affordable broadband access, in the United States please contact https://www.everyoneon.org.

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