Whether an adult is working from home or a child is engaged in remote learning, the process is the same: Use a computer or mobile device, connect to a website, log into a system, and submit data. Maybe the instructions involve listening to a sound file. Maybe there is a video to learn from or a video conferencing program to interact with other people. Maybe there’s a lot of uploading and downloading files.
The decennial U.S. Census indicates that despite the nation’s wealth and technological innovations, 11% of the population lacks internet access. It is irrelevant to the Census if a household has fiber access or dial-up access.
However, the distinction between access and speed is crucial to maximize productivity. I’ve known people in recent years who live in rural parts of America with limited broadband access and who drive to public library parking lots in order to use their WiFi signals to do anything requiring the internet.
Similar to other countries, the U.S. digital gap is most quantifiable by age, income, and geography. The latter is key when one-third of rural Americans do not have broadband access at home. And even if they do have access to fast speeds, they probably do not own the technology to use the speed.
“About three-in-ten adults who live in rural communities (31%) report that they own a desktop or laptop computer, a smartphone, a home broadband connection and a tablet computer. By contrast, 43% of suburban adults own all four of these technologies.”– Pew, May 2019
Globally, 4.6 billion people have internet access, representing 59.6% of the world’s population.
This is a sobering statistic that tells me we have a long way to go to bridge the digital gap — especially in Africa with a 39% internet penetration rate and Asia with 55%. It’s possible that countries with lower Gross National Income may have limited reporting processes and that the total internet access percentage is higher. Probably not.
In July 2008, I observed that the world had 6.6 billion citizens and 1.4 billion internet users. It’s fascinating to recognize that 12 years introduced 1.1 billion and 3.2 billion, respectively.
Despite the marked increase in digital literacy, there remains a drastic need for infrastructure, education, and adoption. The FCC’s broadband map and the independent Loon balloons are great steps in this direction.