Coronavirus & the internet divide in rural America
The COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly swept the entire world by storm however in certain parts of the United States, there is more being revealed about the disparities between different categories of society. As more and more Americans are forced to work from home due to government mandated business closures or curfew enforcements, access to the internet is essential.
While some people may believe that in the year 2020 most Americans have at-home wi-fi connections, that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the most recent Broadband Deployment Report published by the FCC, about 21.3 million rural Americans still lack access to standard broadband internet services. With the recent coronavirus pandemic that has the country in a tightening choke-hold, the issue of “internet insecurity” now has a spotlight on it.
The impacts of limited internet access
The implications of such a large pool of rural Americans having no way to communicate remotely during this time of social distancing & forced business closures is huge. Many students are now unable to complete their school lessons at all & some parents are forced to sit at home hoping that their job opens up again soon. If school systems are unable to re-open entirely until the next academic school year, students will have a lot of make-up work to get done.
There are other disadvantages to having such a huge portion of the population with no access to the internet. A prime example would be their inability to get instantaneous medical assistance through apps such as Telehealth. Modern society virtually requires that you have access to the internet to engage in even simple activities. With the digital divide in America more obvious than ever before, now is the perfect time for the government to ensure that the gap closes.
Initiatives in place to solve the problem
All hope is not lost however as there are plenty of initiatives such as president Trump’s “Keep America Connected” program. This initiative opens up thousands of free wi-fi hotspots around the country to those who need them, it also allows companies to waive any late fees associated with small business or residential customers who currently use their services. This is a major step in the right direction however leadership should understand that issues like this need to be addressed before they are a problem.
Another initiative that is in place to assist those with limited access to the internet is the USDA’s Reconnect Program which has awarded just over $600 million dollars to 31 different states. This move alone has provided internet access to over 150,000 previous unconnected households. The FCC is also getting in on the action with their RDOF promise which pledges to provide $20 billion dollars over the course of ten years to build broadband networks in rural & undeserved communities across America.
While we wait to see what happens with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, rural areas all across America are waiting for assistance from the government in more than one way. With a few initiatives in place such as the ones mentioned above, you can expect to see a surge in the expansion of access to reliable broadband networks in the country over the coming years.