3 ways the digital divide is affecting rural areas

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Have you ever thought about the benefits of having Internet access? At your fingertips is a vast expanse of knowledge and opportunity. Unfortunately, those who do not have access, or have limited access, may find it difficult to acquire the same benefits.

This is called the digital divide.

In this article, we will explore what the digital divide is, its causes and how it is hurting regions.

What is the digital divide?

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The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to digital technologies and those who do not. It is often defined by two interrelated factors: access to the technology and the adequate skills to use the technology.

The Internet is a major factor in the digital divide. Internet access offers substantial advantages and advantages, and limited or no access to the Internet has a huge disadvantage.

For example, without direct access to the Internet, people do not have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills easily and for free, to shop online, to participate in democracy, to communicate freely from a distance or to offer their skills in a range of postal services. Internet industries.

The digital divide has gradually narrowed over the past two decades. However, rural areas still lag behind urban and suburban areas, especially when it comes to internet use and access.

According to Pew Research, in the United States, home broadband is limited to:

  • Only 72% of adults in rural communities.

  • Only 46% of those who did not finish high school.

  • Only 57% of those who earn less than $ 30,000 per year.

This is partly explained by the cost of infrastructure for low population areas. The creation of broadband infrastructure is much more expensive in rural areas, and its implementation is often hampered by the technical challenges imposed by the landscape. In addition, the return on investment for Internet service providers is often too low, so there is no incentive to develop an Internet infrastructure.

To add to this, new infrastructure (such as the introduction of high-speed internet) often spreads slowly, starting in metropolitan areas and gradually spreading across a region. As a result, sparsely populated areas, where introduction costs more, often take years to catch up.

How does the digital divide affect rural areas?

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Pixabay – no attribution required

Of the nearly 55 million people without broadband access in the United States, 14 million are estimated to be from rural areas. Of course, there are other aspects to the digital divide, such as digital literacy and owning a personal computer or smartphone. But the lack of quality internet is one of the most limiting factors, so we’ll focus on that.

Lack of internet access can easily marginalize people politically, socially and economically. In addition, these effects are easily exacerbated for other groups affected by lack of access, including low-income people, the elderly, marginalized communities and people with disabilities.

Let’s take a look at the specific ways in which the digital divide is affecting rural areas.

1. Lack of access to information and services

Without a stable Internet connection, people often rely on their phone plan to access the information and services they need. The problem is, phone plans only offer a specific amount of internet access, which when reached completely disables the internet connection.

For example, in this photo essay, Joseph Mulgrave explains that he is usually unable to continue looking for work in the middle of the month because he has reached the limit on his phone and has no other connection. to the Internet. This effectively leaves him stuck, having to spend more money, time, and effort to find nearby internet sources at low or no cost. Without the Internet, he is missing out on countless job opportunities that could improve his situation.

To add to this, many places do not have cell reception and people have to rely on satellites for connectivity. And satellite packages are generally more expensive.

2. Stifling affairs

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Pixabay – no attribution required

The digital divide is stifling economic growth and social mobility in rural areas.

Many types of businesses are completely impossible without an internet connection, which means people may have to relocate to more expensive urban or suburban areas.

Second, maintaining an online presence is one of the primary methods of establishing, growing, and maintaining a successful business today, which is nearly impossible without a stable broadband connection.

Businesses in rural areas without broadband rely instead on a decent self-provisioning Internet via mobile phone plans or do without it altogether.

3. COVID-19 and the digital divide

The global pandemic only exacerbates the effects of the digital divide. With extensive and strict lockdowns, people are effectively isolated from their families, friends and the community at large. In addition, without access to the Internet or digital devices to reach these people remotely, they are even more isolated than those who do.

People isolated by the digital divide will also find it more difficult to access relevant information about the pandemic, including local lockdown rules, local and national case reports and accurate health advice.

In addition, with the proliferation of telehealth initiatives around the world, those who do not have access to adequate devices or the ability to use them are often left behind. This increases the risk for them and others when it comes to seeing a doctor.

How can we bridge the digital divide?

Over the past two decades, many initiatives have attempted to bridge the digital divide and increase access to digital technology. Some of them have been successful, some not. So what can we do from now on to bridge the gap?

First, people need to have access to an affordable and robust Internet. As we mentioned, it is a challenge, but it is the main obstacle to closing the digital divide. Second, those affected by the digital divide need access to quality digital literacy training and technical support. Without knowing how to use it, any technology brought to a community will be useless.

It is only once access to technology is universal and the skills to use it are readily available that the digital divide will disappear.

Digital equality

The digital divide is not something that city dwellers often envision. But the fact is that rural and disadvantaged communities are often left behind by insufficient access and knowledge of digital technology.

Closing the gap will not be easy, but it will bring more health, prosperity and opportunity to rural areas. With the introduction of new technologies like Elon Musks’ Starlink, who knows what the future looks like.


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