The ubiquity of the Internet and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) poses both challenges and opportunities for individuals and communities alike. The digital revolution over the past few decades has created a large and growing inequity, in which some populations enjoy privileged access to digital tools and solutions while many communities still struggle to catch up. In fact, the FCC’s Eighth Broadband Progress Report found that 19 million Americans – 6% of the population does not have reliable broadband Internet access at home.
At present, solutions geared toward closing the digital divide tend to focus on universal access to ICT, but building an inclusive digital economy – one that allows everyone to maximize their potential and live a productive life – requires more than just access. It requires robust and reliable infrastructure, affordable devices and connectivity plans, and access to educational and training resources at remote and rural locations.
As such, ensuring equitable access alone is no longer enough. Our focus should now be on digital inclusion.
Digital inclusion expands on the idea of digital equity and the digital divide by including people of all ages and backgrounds in discussions about IT, connectivity, and long-term, digital-driven prosperity. Digital inclusion efforts focus on addressing issues regarding digital opportunities, access, knowledge, and skills at the policy level.
Here we break down what digital inclusion is all about, why talking about it is important, what barriers prevent inclusion initiatives, and what we can do to improve inclusion at the individual and community levels.
Understanding Digital Inclusion
Digital inclusion should be a practical, policy-driven approach that addresses the IT and connectivity needs of individuals and communities. It encompasses Internet access as well as the availability of hardware, software, digital content, and the digital literacy training needed to effectively use information and communication technologies.
There are three key components to any successful digital inclusion initiative.
- Access: This focuses on availability, affordability, and policies that are designed for inclusion and ease of access.
- Adoption: This focuses on the relevance of tools and solutions, as well as digital literacy and consumer safety.
- Application: This focuses on a wider range of factors that affect overall inclusion, such as workforce development, education, health care access, access to public safety and emergency services, user engagement, and social networking.
Digital inclusion initiatives must take into account the unique needs of different user groups (discussed below) to make policy-level changes (usually categorized as economic, educational, and social policies) that can sustainably close the digital divide. This requires an understanding of who is affected, what barriers prevent inclusion, and why inclusion is important, to begin with.
Who Is Affected?
Digital exclusion disproportionately affects people in lower-income households, those with lower levels of education or no qualifications, senior citizens, refugees, immigrants, minority communities, and those with disabilities or developmental disorders.
What Barriers Exist?
One of the largest drivers of exclusion is a lack of broadband coverage – there remain many ‘dead zones’ across the United States in which wireless coverage is not available.
As well, a lack of relevant digital skills, affordable hardware, guidance, education, and awareness regarding the importance and benefits of connectivity can also prevent people from getting online. Poor design that prevents easy access can also prevent people from enjoying the benefits of digital access.
Why Digital Inclusion Is Essential
Inclusion and access to ICT are important drivers of sustained economic development. As discussed above, inclusion issues need to be examined from the perspective of access to high-speed Internet access, the adoption of tools and technologies, and the effective application of those technologies.
Better inclusion and improved community access to digital tools can produce a variety of benefits, such as:
- Improved education and employment outcomes via enhanced qualifications, earnings, and chances of finding employment.
- Improved health and well-being via better access to health information and services.
- Higher efficiency via economies of scale and the cost-savings generated by better time management, faster access to information, and the replacement of manual processes with digital and/or automated ones.
Improving Digital Inclusion
Building a digitally inclusive community requires the participation and support of many different players, including libraries, community-based organizations, local businesses, research and development institutes, the government, and policymakers.
Digital inclusion strategies should be tailored to the needs of target populations using existing resources, but there are a few ‘quick fixes’ that communities far and wide can implement to get the ball rolling toward better inclusion for all.
- Providing public access computers to defined populations, such as via libraries, churches, community centers, schools, and recreation centers.
- Providing free Wi-Fi hotspots in high-traffic public areas.
- Developing low-cost purchase options for home computers.
- Establishing partnerships with broadband providers to provide low-cost broadband services to specific users or locations.
- Expanding broadband services to rural areas that lack access to high-speed broadband.
- Providing training that focuses on outcomes (such as landing a job) rather than the technology available.
- Improving accessibility for people with disabilities.
Based on the solution or delivery channel chosen for a specific campaign or initiative, approaches can be customized based on the needs of the local population.
For example, libraries can promote digital inclusion by:
- Providing free access to hardware, software, and Internet connectivity.
- Providing access to digital content.
- Providing digital literacy services that help individuals navigate, understand, and create digital content.
- Delivering community programs and services in the areas of health, wellness, employment, and education.
Similarly, broadband companies, private businesses, training institutes, schools, and local governments can launch partnerships and initiatives that leverage the strengths and capabilities of each partner to deliver better access, inclusion, and equity based on the specific needs of disadvantaged end-users.
By way of example, it is well-documented that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people around the world, but its impact on online education and remote work varies from location to location and from industry to industry. Understanding how, where, and why a community suffers from exclusion must be understood before policies can be launched to address those issues.
The ways in which we work, learn, do business, and conduct day-to-day activities will continue to change. Some experts predict that 85% of the jobs that will exist in the year 2030 do not exist today. The longer that specific users remain excluded by the digital divide, the higher the cost for society, so making sure that everyone benefits from the opportunities created in the growing digital economy should be a top priority for business, political, and community leaders.
Digital transformation has brought – and will continue to bring about – socioeconomic changes in business, education, and labor markets. Equitable, inclusive, and accessible connectivity – which can only be driven by effective digital inclusion policies – will play an important role in creating the future we are working toward today.
Kajeet provides workable connectivity solutions that can help improve digital access, equity, and inclusion for all. We can help communities, businesses, governments, and other stakeholders deliver:
- Affordable and robust broadband Internet connectivity solutions.
- WiFi-enabled devices that are tailored to the requirements of different end-users.
- Tier-1 technical support and dedicated account management.
- Coverage on all major wireless carriers.
To learn more about how we can help you provide connectivity solutions for your community, please contact us at https://www.kajeet.net/contact-us/.