Digital technology is becoming increasingly threaded into every aspect of our lives, from work to commerce to education to socialization to healthcare and more. For those of us immersed in these technologies every day, the discussion is largely around world-changing tools like ChatGPT and other AI tools, hyper automation, and the cloud.
But for people on the other side of the digital divide including those in populated cities as well as in rural areas and underdeveloped countries, it’s things like standard internet access and hardware affordability that are at the top of the priority list.
The digital divide even is prevalent even in the world’s #1 technology hub, Silicon Valley. During the pandemic, students in Santa Clara County—less than one hour’s drive from both Google and Apple headquarters—had to go to McDonald’s just to complete their homework.
Quick takeaways from this article
● The digital divide refers to inequities that exist between those who have access to internet and digital technology and those who don’t.
● It can be the difference between a person’s ability to participate in modern society or not.
● Satellite technology is an effective way to enable digital inclusion.
● Lack of digital literacy can keep the digital divide open even when access is available when programs don’t exist to support it.
● Partnerships between governments, corporations, and NGOs are a powerful contributor to digital inclusion.
The digital divide: What it is and why It matters
The digital divide is defined as “the economic, educational, and social inequities that exist between those who have computers and online access and those who do not.” It’s important to note those three descriptors: economic, educational, and social. The digital divide isn’t just about having technology for convenience—it’s the difference between successful participation in modern society or the inability to do so.
There are countless ways people turn to digital technology and the internet every day in their personal and professional lives, including to:
● Connect to coworkers and perform their jobs
● Buy goods and services at lower prices
● Take courses and complete their educations
● Pay bills and make appointments
● Talk to family and friends
● Access news and important community updates
Increasingly, there are situations where no offline alternative exists for some of these activities, especially as they relate to business interactions. That means individuals without technology access are at risk of going without life essentials, like employment or healthcare.
Why we must address the digital divide now
Over time, the digital divide will lead to increasingly wider skills gaps that prevent people from finding employment and companies from finding the talent they need. In the U.S., 1 in 3 workers already lack foundational digital skills, and 3 in 4 lack necessary resources to succeed in workplaces of the future.
The situation is more dire in less developed parts of the world. Africa, for example, contains 12 of the 20 countries with the weakest digital skills, and only 11% of their college graduates have formal digital training.
Because the digital divide manifests economically, geographically, and demographically (and often through a combination of the above), there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address it.
Instead, it requires effort from people and organizations in communities around the world to increase digital inclusion and eliminate access gaps. Let’s look at some actionable ways to do it.
Ways to address the digital divide
Government entities and corporations have initiatives that support investment in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, particularly in rural and underserved areas. While satellite broadband is a competitive option in many areas, it may be the only viable option in certain areas where terrestrial alternatives are not available or are cost-prohibitive.
The value of closing the digital divide can’t be understated, and Viasat has seen its impacts firsthand. We’ve provided satellite internet in a vast variety of situations, from ensuring education continuity during the pandemic to keeping families connected during political conflicts to enabling rescue efforts during natural disasters.
Today, satellite internet has helped to increase global internet connectivity to 70% of the world’s population, but 2.7 billion people—many of them in underdeveloped countries—are still without online access.
To ever reach the goal of universal internet access for all, agile implementation methods like satellite technology will need to be central to the plan.
Affordability and accessibility initiatives
Lack of affordability and accessibility are foundational contributors to the digital divide, and it’s an area that requires internet providers and tech companies to be part of the solution. Initiatives like the Federal Communicaiton Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) are designed to help ensure that households can afford the broadband connectivity required to work, learn from home, and more.
As an internet provider, Viasat participates in the ACP to help close the digital divide by making internet more affordable for households in need, including those on Tribal lands. We apply the FCC’s ACP discount to our plans for those who qualify to bring essential internet service to new customers, and to keep current customers connect.
Digital literacy programs
Digital literacy is the ability to navigate, understand, and utilize digital technology, and it’s one of the most important indicators of progress in closing the digital divide. Even when access and affordability exist, low digital literacy can serve as a barrier because people don’t know how to use the technology available to them.
Digital literacy programs must be implemented alongside accessibility and affordability efforts in order to make their maximum impact. These programs can range from school-provided training for students, community training at public locations such as libraries, and skills training provided by employers (among others).
To see a program like this in action, check out the video below about Viasat’s recent partnership with Psicología y Derechos Humanos (PSYDEH) to empower indigenous women through digital literacy education.
Content and local language support
In diverse communities around the world, language barriers can keep people from attaining the digital access they need, even in places where access is at its highest. Or, even when access is granted, limited online content in a person’s native language can prevent them from participating in digital spaces.
For example: There are 584 million native Hindi speakers in the world, yet only 0.1% of all online content is available in Hindi. Translation tools help, but the technology still has gaps and isn’t the same quality of native-written text.
This challenge can be combated with the development of localized content and services catered to the specific needs and interests of diverse communities. This can include providing training content in local languages as well as promoting culturally appropriate digital content to engage and empower individuals who might otherwise be excluded
Collaboration between all types of institutions, government entities, private sector companies, and nonprofits helps close the digital divide. The collective resources delivered by strategic partnerships are more powerful than any one organization’s resources alone. With the right level of effort and alignment, organizations can come together to bridge the digital divide and deliver more widespread access to digital technologies.
At Viasat, we aim to partner with all types of organizations who have a similar vision about the importance of digital inclusion around the world.
We’ve partnered with Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission to increase internet access across the country, with Microsoft to deliver connectivity to underserved communities around the world, and Brazilian telecommunications company Telebras to expand their nationwide high-speed internet access (among many others).
The pandemic showed us in 2020 how quickly organizations, government entities, and the world at large can move online. As we move on a fast trajectory toward an increasingly digital future, the digital divide will continue to exclude certain populations if it’s not addressed.
Closing the gap will be a collective effort between individuals, corporations, governments, and innovators building and sharing technology around the world.