What is the digital divide, and how can we bridge it?

The digital divide has come to the center of attention during the last two years. The pandemic exposed the gaps in internet service with the need to work from home and go to school virtually. As a result, it’s more apparent that the internet has become a must-have for our daily lives. However, many people still don’t have access to high-speed internet, leading to inequality. Because of that, the digital divide is something we are working relentlessly to close. Today, we’ll define the digital divide and how we’re acting to bridge it. 

What is the digital divide?

The digital divide is the gap between those who can use technology and those who cannot. It’s a problem that has been around for years, but it’s come into the spotlight more recently with the pandemic. In addition, the need to suddenly work from home or do virtual school has exposed the gaps in internet service for many people.

The internet has become critical for modern life, but many people still don’t have access to it. An estimated 42 million Americans can’t purchase broadband internet for reasons ranging from financial, geographic, and service limitations. The lack of access to the internet divides society and limits opportunities for those who don’t have the internet. Because of this, we are working relentlessly to close the digital divide, and today we’ll share what it is.

Factors that Impact the Digital Divide

Cost

Internet and computer devices can be expensive, putting them out of reach for many people. As inflation rises, 64% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Extra expenses like high-speed internet can be the difference between food on the table or not. At Race, we offer affordable high-speed internet to help combat the digital divide. 

Race and Ethnicity 

Race can also impact the digital divide. Minorities are more likely to live in poverty, with 25.4% of Native Americans and 20.8% of African Americans living in poverty, nearly doubly the poverty rate of their white neighbors (10.1%). Living in poverty undoubtedly makes it harder to afford internet and computer devices. Additionally, areas of high poverty typically don’t have access to the same quality of education. This lack of quality can often limit a school’s ability to use and teach technology.

Education 

When the pandemic hit and schools went virtual, more than a quarter of K–12 students (29%) lacked reliable internet access in spring 2020, leaving them without a path forward to learn. However, many school districts or parents in higher-income areas were able to provide students with the tools necessary to succeed. Unfortunately, this left a gap in the education in communities that were not well-funded, leading to a less than quality education. We need to ensure everyone has access to quality education and the technology to make it possible. 

Location 

Your location also plays a role in access. Many rural areas of the country still do not have access to high-speed internet. Geographical location played a big part in the problems with accessibility during the pandemic as people who lived in rural areas struggled to work from home or do virtual school. According to the Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults, roughly seven-in-ten rural Americans (72%) say they have a broadband internet connection at home. 

How does it affect society?

The digital divide affects society in several ways. In short, it creates unfairness and limits opportunities for those who don’t have the internet. Let’s explore how it does this further. 

Social Isolation

The divide can lead to social isolation. People without the internet are cut off from communication and information easily accessible to others. 

Limits Job Opportunities

The digital divide has a significant effect on the workplace. In today’s job market, increased computer skill levels are a prerequisite. However, the demand for these skills creates unfairness in society and limits opportunities for those who don’t have them. 

For example, many job applications are online, so you’re already at a disadvantage if you don’t have internet access. In addition, having the money to have a computer with a webcam and high-speed internet to work from home on zoom calls presents a barrier to entry. 

Impacts education 

25% of students lack an adequate internet connection. The lack of access became a glaringly obvious problem during the pandemic when kids across the country moved to virtual learning. Unfortunately, many homes were not set up with the equipment or internet services to make a move to online learning. However, that isn’t the only challenge. Many homework assignments now utilize the internet leaving kids behind who don’t have access. 

What is being done to close the digital divide?

At Race, we’re committed to closing the digital divide and ensuring everyone has access to the internet. We’re doing this by working with government, industry, and community partners to:

  • Increase access to affordable broadband
  • Improve digital literacy
  • Connect people in underserved communities

We know that we can’t close the digital divide alone, so we’re working with our partners. Here are some ways we are working together to bridge the divide. 

California Advanced Services Fund (CASF)

The California Public Utilities Commission has helped bridge the digital divide through the use of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) since 2008. CASF helps bring broadband to underserved and unserved communities throughout California, aiming to close the digital divide. The goal is to close the digital divide by bringing broadband to 98% of households in each consortia region by December 31, 2022. 

Internet Act For All 

The Internet Act For All was reintroduced in the house on 3/11/2021. The act will make high-speed broadband internet service accessible and affordable to all Americans. In addition, the bill will provide discounts on broadband for low-income consumers and subsidize the internet for schools and libraries. The Internet Act for All is a significant step forward to bridge the digital divide. 

Computer Literacy Training 

Many cities, libraries, and companies offer free digital literacy training to bridge the divide. These classes work to give everyone foundational skills that will help achieve equity at school and work closing and is a pivotal part of eliminating the digital divide. 

How Race is Working to Bridge the Digital Divide 

Race is dedicated to providing reliable, accessible, high-speed internet by building new fiber networks and infrastructures. We worked to bring our fiber optic networks to underserved or unserved communities so they can have equal access. 

Race Communications works with the California Public Utilities Commission and other advocacy groups to build new networks in these communities. Race has received California grants to cover up to 60 percent of construction costs, including the labor, equipment, and materials required to bring fiber or cable internet to a region; however, it does not include operational costs. 

Final Thoughts

The digital divide is a problem that has been around for years, but it’s come into the spotlight more recently with the pandemic. The need to work from home and participate in virtual school exposed the gaps in internet service for many people. At Race, we’re working hard to close the digital divide and ensure everyone has access to the internet. Closing the digital divide will create more opportunities and a better society. 

Race Communications Supports Mentoring with a Silver Sponsorship of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area  

In April of 2022, Race CEO Raul Alcaraz paused during his board meeting to see an email plea from his outside counsel, a former Big Brother Big Sister board member. The email asked if Race could be a corporate sponsor of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area Gala. The non-profit mentoring organization was one sponsorship shy of its Gala goal, its primary fundraiser of the year. Raul immediately stepped up to the plate and became a Silver Sponsor of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Gala held on April 22nd in San Francisco. 

The Silver Level sponsorship allowed Race Communications to fund seven matches of volunteer Big Brothers and Big Sisters with their Little Brother or Little Sister in the Greater Bay Area, forever changing the lives of these seven underprivileged children. One in four of the children this program serves has a parent who is incarcerated. Additionally, 72 percent come from single-parent households, and the overwhelming majority (90%) are low-income. Single parents often struggle to provide financially for their families and have less time to be present in their child’s life. Due to this, these children are exposed to greater adversity such as gang activity, crime, and substance abuse. They have the potential for greatness but need a special role model and friend that they can trust.    

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program matches a carefully screened and background checked adult mentor (a “Big”) with an enrolled child (the “Little”), and they commit to meet twice a month for a year. The Big and Little share everyday activities, like doing homework, sharing a pizza and movie night, taking hikes, shooting hoops, attending sporting events, going to the zoo, or sightseeing. Match Specialists from Big Brothers Big Sisters check in periodically with the volunteers to offer resources, advice and lend a listening ear. Often the Big-Little matches last years, and they become “family.”  

Studies of the program show that these enrolled children gain confidence, their grades improve, and they drop out of school less than similarly situated underprivileged children. It is clear that just having a caring adult in their life can make all the difference in the world. Big Brothers and Big Sisters also provide scholarships and grants for camping or playing an instrument to children who have participated in the program.  

Race is proud to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area because it is consistent with our past community activities, such as school backpack giveaways and giving trees for families affected by the devastating wildfires. Race Communications serves its communities by providing an essential service, ultra-fast gigabit broadband, and taking care of those who are less fortunate in these difficult times.  

In addition, Race salutes the volunteer adult mentors in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area program and thanks them for giving their time to these children.