Bridging The Digital Gap
Today access to digital resources impacts economic viability and quality of life. While the USA has been a leader in building digital resources, a disparity of access to Internet resources creates an unequal opportunity for consumers. According to the Council Of Economic Advisors (COE), “The inequity is likely both a cause and a consequence of other demographic disparities,” (COE 2015 pg 9).
The phrase “digital divide” has been applied to the gap that exists between those with ready access to the tools of information and communication technologies, and the knowledge that they provide access to, and those without such access or skills (Cullen, 2001). Millions of Americans still do not regularly use a computer, and research shows that there remain substantial disparities in both Internet use and the quality of access. According to data collected by the most recent census, this “digital divide” appears to be concentrated among older, less educated, and less affluent populations, as well as in rural parts of the country that tend to have fewer choices and slower connections (COE 2015 pg. 3).
Professor Chris Guillard from Macomb Community College, a guest lecturer for the MAET summer cohort at Michigan State University, suggested that a clear geographic digital divide exists between some school districts in Detroit. Research posted by the COE for the Obama administration presents supportive evidence that “There is also substantial within-city variation in Internet adoption, and this variation is strongly correlated with household income. San Antonio provides a good example. Utilizing several exemplary PUMAs (geographic areas defined for statistical use.) PUMAs are built using census tracts and counties that nest within States, contain roughly 100,000 residents, and cover the entire United States.) PUMAs in the central city of San Antonio fall into the lowest quintile of U.S PUMAs for both Internet adoption and household income, while its northern suburbs are in the highest quintile of U.S. PUMAs for both Internet and income.” (COE pg. 4). Taken together, the national and city-level maps suggest that both income and geography help explain the digital divide. Professor Guillard further suggested that the digital divide was not restricted to geographic considerations but also institutional. He explained that colleges and universities participate in a “digital redlining.” He lamented that institutions with greater resources afford greater access to research capabilities. (Guillard, C., May 24, 2016).
Perhaps the simplest explanation for the digital divide is that Internet access is costly, and those with more income are more likely to be able to afford it. Indeed, a 2010 FCC survey found that 36 percent of non-adopters cited expense as the primary driver of their decision. However, factors like age and income may also be correlated with the non-monetary costs and benefits that an individual or a household derives from Internet use. (DOE Pg 5)
Chris Seals PhD, and Gillian Seals, MA, also addressed the MAET year one cohort, orchestrating a powerful interactive lesson where teachers played the role of students who experience barriers that lead to inequality in digital access. Teachers were encouraged to consider the reality of the digital divide when assigning homework to students. (Seals, C, and Seals, G, July 19, 20)
While factors relating to the causes of the digital divide in the United States are enumerated in some detail above, defining the problem is only an initial step toward Internet equality. A response plan of action to address the barriers to the digital divide must be continually promoted. Educators must act as advocates for unlimited access to digital learning resources. Elected officials at all levels of government and the legal community must also be recruited to embrace the need for equality in Internet access.
The Obama administration proposed a broad agenda to fund infrastructure investments and embrace robust competition policies that would ensure widespread access to affordable high-quality Internet service. The president’s visionary position embraced a broad-spectrum policy that would ensure that dramatic growth in wireless broadband would continue, and also that investments in education and training, especially for children would be a priority, removing computer literacy barriers to universal access. Closing the gap between those who experience these social and economic benefits from Internet use, and those who do not, will require further efforts to reduce barriers in affordability, relevance, and computer literacy. (COE pg. 9)
Council Of Economic Indicator Brief, ( 2015). Mapping The Digital Divide [Policy Statement]
Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/wh_digital_Divide_issue_brief.pdf
Rowena Cullen, (2001) "Addressing the digital divide", Online Information Review, Vol. 25 Issue: 5,
Chris Guillard. (2016, May24) Digital Redlining, Access and Privacy [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/privacy/blog/digital-redlining-access-privacy
Chris Seals P.H. D. and Gillian Seals, M.A. “Equity In Technology.” MAET Summer Cohort, July 16, 2018, Michigan State University, East Lansing Michigan. Conference Presentation