Bridging the Gap: The Digital Divide in Times of COVID-19
Key points by Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi
COVID-19 has reaffirmed the need to bridge the gaps in Internet access. The digital divide exists across borders, fields, and generations, impacting virtually every aspect of life. Within the digital realm, the pandemic has increased the digital divide — the uneven distribution in the access to and use of digital technologies whether based on age, geographical or geopolitical factors, social factors, or economic factors. During the pandemic, the impact of the digital divide is evident on both macro levels, such as school systems struggling to ensure all students have equitable digital access and opportunities for virtual schooling and on the micro levels where grandchildren are teaching their grandparents how to use Zoom and Facetime to stay in touch during quarantine.
The digital divide is not a new issue but is one that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s important to act so as to pursue digital inclusion and equity. The digital divide influences mental health significantly, since they feel divided, unprivileged, and lonely. It is important to enhance digital and media literacy in unprivileged parts of the world in order to decrease the digital divide. It’s especially important to increase digital literacy and digital access of older adults, persons with disabilities, and unprivileged groups, as the digital divide leads to the spread of disinformation, which has a great impact on politics and voting.
Young people often know more about technology, and this leads to a digital divide with older adults. In a lot of regions of the world populations are still unconnected. Around 3 million people around the world were still unconnected to broadband as of 2019 and these people need to be connected to achieve universal access to broadband connectivity. Unconnected populations often live in remote, rural locations not easily accessible by traditional networks. The major barrier is the cost of access, the high cost to connect is excluding billions from the digital revolution. Nearly half of the world’s population is still offline, most of which are women from developing countries. We need global investments to achieve universal access.
Connecting the world to broadband Internet is predominantly an infrastructure investment challenge. But infrastructure alone is not sufficient, that means complementary initiatives are needed to connect people already covered by broadband networks. These include programs to increase and support device affordability, affordability of data and services, and digital skills programs and content, with a special focus on closing the digital gender gap. COVID-19 has exposed the inequalities in Internet access and affordability across the globe. Stakeholders should take urgent actions to bring as many people online as possible during this global emergency.
· Digital inclusion and equity
· Need for increased Internet accessibility
· Digital divide influences mental health
· Lack of Internet influences on the quality of life
· Strategies to decrease digital divide
· Enhance digital, information, and media literacy
· Digital access for older adults and persons with disabilities
· Digital divide and the spread of disinformation
· Need for broadband activity
· High cost of access to the Internet
· Osama Manzar — Founder and Director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi, India
· Valerie Wood-Gaiger MBE — Founder of Learn with Grandma an International Network, Wales, UK
· Joan Katambi — Founder and CEO of the Digital Literacy Initiative, Kampala, Uganda
· Michael J. Oghia — Advocacy and Engagement Manager of the Global Forum for Media Development, Belgrade, Serbia
· Pierre Poulin- Wilfrid-Bastien School Contact for ApprentissAGE (Learn With Elders), Montreal, Canada
· Maiko Nakagaki- Senior Partnerships Manager, Alliance for Affordable Internet, Washington D.C., USA
You can watch the virtual discussion on DCN’s Facebook Page.
This event is co-organized by Digital Communication Network SouthEast Europe Hub (DCN SEE) and World Learning and is part of DCNSEE’s Ideas in Action — Digital Engagement, a series of virtual events launched in
the context of the COVID-19 crisis. DCNSEE is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Citizen Exchanges.
Digital Communication Network Global is an interdisciplinary alliance of non-profits, public and private organizations and social influencers, making a difference in the new information space through social impact campaigns, technology, and innovation.