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The 2017 Digital Divide

September 01, 2017


By Paula Klein

Inthe 1990s when many Americans — and certainly, people around the world — lacked access to the newly emerging internet and related technologies, the term digital divide was coined to describe the gap between those who could connect and those who couldn’t.

In 2017, the gap is as wide as ever.

Although it’s 30 years later and mobile and cellular technologies have exploded, disparities persist. Sparked by new definitions of digital access — broadband versus cellular, urban versus rural –as well as industrial and sociological differences, the term, and the gap, is top of mind. In fact, MIT Technology Review recently pointed out that the U.S. has “a persistentembarrassing digital divide” that needs to be addressed at the highest levels. Moreover, the article emphasized that, “mobile broadband access isn’t the same as at-home connectivity,” even though some in the FCC and Trump administration are making that case.

Although many Americans take digitization for granted, Pew Research also concluded that “the digital divide persists, even as lower-income Americans make gains in tech adoption.”

Providing mobile-only services is insufficient, Pew argues, because limited access stymies educational as well as economic opportunities, and widens the divide.

Clearly, while digital technology is creating unprecedented wealth for some, it remains concentrated among relatively few people, compared to the broader economic gains driven by previous technological advancements. Part of the problem still lies with basic access to digital technology and the opportunities it affords.

Myriad Solutions

What’s being done? There are many approaches, of course, and leaders from Maine to North Carolina, Budapest, to Indonesia and beyond, are seeking hopeful solutions that meet their local and demographic needs. Tech corporations such as SAP and Google are taking steps, too.

At MIT, the IDE Inclusive Innovation Challenge was specifically formed to identify, reward, and promote digital solutions that drive greater economic prosperity worldwide. In August, the IIC named 16 finalists in four categories. One key aim is to connect more people with internet and technology access, regardless of age, location, education, or ability.


Continue reading the full blog on the IDE Medium publication.