Crossing the Digital Divide During COVID

Organizations blend past and present strategies to stay in touch with community members.

September 17, 2020, 10:00 AM PDT

By LM_Ortiz

Coronavirus Social Distancing

robert cicchetti / Shutterstock

When COVID-19 began spreading across the country earlier this year, and Americans were ordered to stay at home and socially distance, they turned to technology. Since then, many aspects of everyday life have become virtual–starting with work and school and eventually including traditionally in-person events like baby showers, birthdays, and weddings; cooking and fitness classes; conferences; concerts and plays; and even dance parties. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in early April found that roughly 54 percent of U.S. adults said that the internet became essential for them during the pandemic.

As the pandemic pushed people to rely more heavily on technology to stay connected, it also made it undeniable how much more work needs to be done to resolve the digital divide. In a report published last year, the Federal Communications Commission estimated that there were 21 million Americans who lacked broadband access at the end of 2017. Reliable high-speed internet, as defined by the FCC, is having download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps. In other words, having high-speed internet access is a luxury. This has become especially apparent in the country’s education system. It’s estimated that more than 9 million schoolchildren lack access to high-speed broadband internet at home. According to the Pew Research Center, those who are less likely to have broadband service at home include racial minorities, older adults, rural residents, and those with lower levels of education and income.  

Closing the digital divide requires reliable and affordable internet, adequate devices, and digital literacy skills. Outside of schools and libraries, nonprofit organizations are often the bridge for the digital divide in their communities. However, that work has become more challenging as face-to-face gatherings have been restricted. Nonprofits were forced to ...

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