Thought leaders have long recognized a growing digital divide. In stark contrast with the democratic value of equality of opportunity, large portions of the world lack access to the Internet connectivity they need to survive and thrive in a digital landscape. As Dr. David Bray, Director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center, explained on a STEMTalks podcast episode, the pandemic has highlighted the fact that Internet access today is a necessity, not a luxury. As such, societies must be responsible for providing Internet access and training to their populations in its use.
With Dr. Linton Wells II of George Mason University, Dr. Bray laid out practical ways for individuals, governments, and companies to address the digital divide. Among them, Dr. Bray mentioned local level mobilization to reach community consensus on the reasons everyone deserves reliable internet access. Once enough local governments and populations have taken action, larger institutions will have incentive to seize the moment and get involved. In fact, moments of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic present critical opportunities to make tangible arguments to policymakers that internet, like water or electricity, is an essential part of any national recovery.
The value added by universal internet access and the benefits to their own constituents are compelling arguments to policymakers, but, as Dr. Bray reiterated, the first step in addressing the digital divide is for a growing slice of the population to agree that everyone deserves access to the internet. Without this step, no true change can occur. Listen to the podcast for more practical steps towards creating a more just digital world.