What is the digital divide?
As many as 18 million Americans do not have access to high-speed internet. This includes remote farming communities, where it is not commercially viable to build out networks, and low income families in Manhattan who cannot afford internet service.
The pandemic highlighted many inequalities including the extent of the digital divide. Remote and rural communities, as well as urban poor in G7 nations, have found themselves distanced socially, economically, and educationally due to poor or non-existent broadband services.
UNICEF estimates that a third of the world’s school children – 463 million globally – were unable to access remote learning when Covid-19 closed schools.
The graph displays share and number of students potentially reached and not reached by digital and broadcast remote learning policies, by region (pre-primary to upper secondary).
What are the benefits of digital inclusion?
There are many studies that demonstrate how higher broadband penetration levels not only improve household and business access to information, work and education, they also increase a nation’s GDP.
It keeps economies online - While economic activity and productivity have plummeted during the pandemic, high-speed broadband connectivity has kept automated factories productive and white-collar workers online. It has provided continuity in education for students and helped maintain the mental well-being of workers, furloughed staff and families, by allowing them to connect to virtual versions of their sports, hobbies, enrichment activities and support groups.
Digital inclusion for education is universally important as it forms the bedrock of future societies and economies. By providing schools with connectivity, devices and digital skills, countries are literally investing in their own future.
The graph shows annual GDP impact of broadband by country.
What needs to change?
The path forward is to use alternative technologies to make more viable business cases and ensure that regulation and other policies support broader population coverage and quality broadband access.
Alternative technology eg FWA and High-altitude platform services (HAPS), such as Google’s Project Loon and Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink constellation
Development programs and budgets to prioritize digitalization from organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, international banks and development agencies
Government investment and incentives
At Nokia, we are committed to connecting the unconnected and to the ethical principles of doing business and supporting equality.
We support the 2025 targets set by the The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development that aims to ‘connect the other half’ in the next five years. There are seven targets calling for national broadband plans that address affordability, access and digital skill levels by region, demographic and gender. It also calls to connect small businesses and extend e-finance services to the unbanked.
A fair and equitable society requires access to infrastructure (secure and affordable access and devices) and the capabilities to use the infrastructure (education, knowledge).
Connectivity should be considered a necessary service like water, electricity and gas. When it comes to living a full life (both online and offline), universal broadband access will help to ensure that no one is left behind.