For some time now citizens and politicians have been talking about the ‘Digital Divide’ that many rural communities experience. It’s likely that the current coronavirus pandemic will test the progress we’ve made to get residents and businesses connected to the World Wide Web and highlight the gaps that still exist, particularly as our school districts prepare to complete the rest of the school year using a range of online tools and businesses explore new ways to do e-commerce during a stay at home order.
In recent years, access to internet providers has improved greatly along with the quality of those services but the fact still remains that not all citizens can access them due to financial reasons or a lack of familiarity with technology.
In 2018, Pew Research determined through a survey that 17 percent of teens across this country often or sometimes struggled to complete their homework because they didn’t have internet access or a computer at home. Having connected devices for every child isn’t something that all households can afford either.
Fortunately, local school districts are atuned to this dilemma and are doing what they can to provide printed packets of schoolwork and “paper and pencil options” for families too.
While we advocate to close the digital divide that exists, it would be wise to continue expanding public online services. In the wake of closures, some government entities have promised to make themselves more accessible through technology and that would certainly be welcome during this pandemic and in the weeks and months to come.
The idea of “digital inclusion,” that is, all people and communities having access to technology that improves their quality of life, will continue to be vitally important as our region, state and country seek to recover economically from the pandemic.