Digital Divide, Inequalities Could Be Exacerbated By Economic Shutdown
today at 9:48 am
The digital divide is defined as the gulf between those who can readily access computers and the internet, and those who can not. During the coronavirus pandemic, and the economic shutdown that it has caused, there are worries that it will only get worse, becoming a “digital chasm.”
The stark divisions that already exist in society, in terms of educational attainment and income equality, could be exacerbated the longer the stay-at-home orders remain in place and most businesses are shuttered. With schools going to at home virtual learning, access to high speed broadband is key.
Spectrum, providers of cable TV and high speed internet packages, has offered free Wi-Fi for 60 days nationwide. Another provider in Chicagoland and northwest Indiana, Comcast is doing the same. Cellular service provider Verizon has offered 15 GB of data, at no additional charge to account holders for the month of April, and then another 15 gigs for the month of May. With more people working remotely, and additional work being done online instead of on site, the need for bandwidth and data is ramping up.
Knowledge is power, the saying goes, and without access to that knowledge, there will be no opportunities for empowerment in the so-called information economy. It’s an issue that’s picking up steam among news pundits and politicians. CNBC’s Jim Cramer has Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on his show Wednesday, and he addressed the digital divide issue.
“We’re in a world where people who are healthy, people who have jobs, contracts, they can stay at home,” Cramer said to Madame Speaker.
“I see another world. I see the possibility of two societies developing. [One] society that has to be out there every day in the masses, subways, risking themselves. And this other group of people, safe at home, with all sorts of computers, very rich. A society that is not what you and I want to see. How do we prevent that?”
Unfortunately, her answer was unsatisfactory, as it was severely lacking in substance. A national politician who came off as more in touch with the everyday person this week is one of local- Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. In her Tuesday night appearance on The Daily Show, she pointed out how African-Americans account for 43% of the COVID-19 cases in this state, despite comprising only 15% of the population.
A big reason for that is the phenomena Cramer was describing, as African-Americans are more likely to be employed in jobs deemed “essential,” and those often come with more exposure to larger masses of people. Another reason is the excessive presence of air pollution in the neighborhoods where African-Americans live, as it breeds respiratory illnesses, which are of course, more dangerous than ever amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As Duckworth said, you take “the L” (Chicago’s metro subway system) from “the loop” (downtown) just ten stops to the Southside, life expectancy drops by a whopping 20 years. It’s an eye-opening statistic, and one that reminds us all just how far behind society often leaves large segments of our population. Now, in this time of great re-evaluation and re-assessment, we need to make sure everyone has access to resources, both online and off.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TV, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Now and SB Nation.
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