Readin’ with Rachel: Trouble in Telecommunication

Readin%27+with+Rachel%3A+Trouble+in+Telecommunication

Rachel Scully, Campus Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us into the online world whether we liked it or not. The older generation was pushed into an area that they might not be familiar with, young people were pulled away from their in-person classes and everyone was isolated from the world for months on end. However, a serious issue has intensified for those in lower income and rural areas: the digital divide.

According to the Pew Research Center, the digital divide is “the gap between those who do or do not have access to technology.” Pew added that 53% of Americans say the internet has been essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. With everything from schooling to health networks going virtual, the internet has been providing crucial services during quarantine. 

However, for those in lower income and rural areas, issues arise with internet accessibility. Another Pew Research article showed that 59% of lower-income U.S. parents say their child may face digital obstacles in schoolwork, such as a lack of access to tech devices and the internet. 

This isn’t a new issue. The digital divide has been causing problems for Americans for many years. In 2017, TIME published an article about Rob Blick, a high school math teacher at Conotton Valley with a master’s in computer programming. As tech-savvy as Blick is, he didn’t have internet access at home, which impacted his knowledge of the internet as technology progressed. For example, a picture of Pepe the Frog, an internet meme appropriated by white supremacists, was drawn on his chalkboard and he didn’t understand the  significance of the meme.

While a simple meme may not seem like a big deal, Blick’s story emphasizes a bigger issue in the digital divide: lack of accessibility to knowledge and the internet. The most considerable difference between then and now is that there are very few in-person services due to COVID-19, and people without or with poor internet have lost access to these crucial services. 

Major efforts are currently being made by leaders to counter the problem of the digital divide, the latest being the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. While the $20.4 billion fund is very significant, some believe it is likely to be inadequate in completely solving the issue. However, it is a significant step toward closing this gap. 

I am lucky to have the privilege of accessing the internet during this crazy time. The worst issue I deal with is the occasional internet crashing and lagging, and I make it seem like the end of the world. However, there are students my age that can’t go to college during the pandemic because of the digital divide. More importantly, many Americans can’t access telehealth services that provide critical and potentially life-saving information. 

Fortunately, recent events have made the topic of the digital divide resurface in the media and many have demanded action from leaders and politicians. Hopefully, there will be a small light at the end of the pandemic tunnel with a solution to the internet accessibility problem.