The internet, specifically online connectivity, has been deemed the “fourth utility” behind water, electricity, and gas. In January 2023, it was recorded by Statista that 64.4% of the world’s population are internet users, making internet connectivity and accessibility an essential necessity for the population, especially in a post-pandemic world.
The insufficiency of broadband access, synonymous with high-speed internet, in specifically rural areas, was greatly exposed in 2020 when communication began to stem predominantly from homes. A challenge that continues in the United States is that nearly 30% of Americans don’t have fixed broadband access (Minhaj, 2020). The absence of high-speed broadband availability in rural areas, when compared to metropolitan areas, was exacerbated by the pandemic which led community leaders to effectively advocate for ways to close the digital divide (Kish, 2022), pressuring government officials to take action.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, it was made aware to many businesses that operating fully remotely was possible, which led to an abundance of employees relocating away from crowded cities to rural areas. Additionally, many services have shifted to fully operating on online platforms, such as online schooling and healthcare providers; this shift has caused broadband to become an integral piece of everyday life and not all communities have equal access.
The relocation of the workforce to rural communities made the lack of broadband access even more prevalent, bringing awareness to why certain areas of the nation, some with typically lower socioeconomic citizens, are susceptible to technological discrimination, a repercussion of internet connectivity being inaccessible. Technology discrimination is a form of poverty and social exclusion that deprives citizens of essential technology resources for development; effects of technology discrimination include isolation, lack of communication, and the accentuation of social differences. Technology discrimination and the digital divide can be visualized as a pendulum, which together – and on their own accord – act as “a preventive barrier” against students excelling academically, later impacting their experiences in the workforce or possibly leading to unemployment (Iberdrola, 2023). The underdevelopment of digital skills will most likely affect one’s chances of landing a job versus another candidate who has the appropriate abilities. The inaccessibility to fixed broadband also negatively contributes to poorer health outcomes nationwide, largely resulting from, for example, one’s inability to locate a medical professional’s information or insight. (Kish, 2022).
The digital divide and technology discrimination will only continue to flourish if the inaccessibility to broadband connectivity remains a consistent, continuous problem. Following communities projecting concerns for digital equality across the nation, government bills, acts, and investments pertaining to broadband affordability were introduced, predominantly for those struggling with internet accessibility for work, school, and health care over an extended period of time.
With 163 million Americans not having high-speed internet (Minhaj, 2020), the introduction of fiber, a type of broadband technology, to communities, mainly in rural areas, would enhance global connectivity between citizens and loved ones alike. By installing fiber-to-the-home technology in communities, the accessibility to the internet will increase, causing a decrease in the digital divide and technology discrimination. Fiber-to-the-home technology can offer a greater productivity level for communities, such as enabling the ability to learn remotely with high-speed internet connectivity, increasing digital skills, and providing medical facilities with the necessary bandwidth that, for example, has symmetrical capabilities, allowing large files, such as MRIs and CT scan images, to be easily transmittable, uploaded, and downloaded. If all neighborhoods, including rural areas, had access to fiber-optic broadband, along with fiber-to-the-home technology, communities nationally would be connected, not only with one another, but with services, necessities, and with the entire globe. Following communities having access to fixed broadband, a deeper connection to oneself and to society is likely to develop.
According to Broadband Communities: Building a Fiber Connected World (2022), while “all new technologies are designed with the goal of improving lives”, fiber-fueled internet has had the greatest technological impact on society by helping create jobs, improving health care, and bettering educational access for students. Kish (2022), claims that “fiber-based broadband helps communities grow and thrive as part of the digital economy” by providing all people with fast, affordable, accessible and functional internet, every moment of every day, no matter where they are.
Hotwire Communications created the Empowering Communities Foundation with a mission to provide broadband internet services and digital literacy resources to underserved communities. The Empowering Communities Foundation goes beyond merely advocating for broadband access, but has taken strides towards bridging the growing digital divide globally. Whether the divide is driven by long-standing equities or emerging global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Hotwire Communications has started taking action to ensure that all people have access to the internet.
The Empowering Communities Foundation, with help from The Home Page program, has donated thousands of laptops to families, supporting over 2,100 students across the world, while also providing a plethora of underserved communities with Wi-Fi infrastructures and fully-maintained networks. Hotwire Communications has partnered with numerous companies and programs to reach more individuals in need of broadband access:
- The Empowering Communities Foundation supplied the entire Ghetto Youth Foundation in Trenchtown facility in Trenchtown, Jamaica with 40 laptops, along with a direct data connection to provide the community center with high-speed internet access.
- The Empowering Communities Foundation built a 1 Gigabit data connection to The Lotus House, a space dedicated to improving the lives of women, children, and those experiencing homelessness, main facility to provide internet at no cost.
- In partnership with Truist Bank, and Dell, The Empowering Communities Foundation enabled students and families to learn, work, and play from home by providing free laptops, internet access, and ongoing technical support communities in Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
- The Empowering Communities Foundation created “Connection Kits” which provided students and families with headphones, spiral notebooks, pencils and other school essentials stored in backpacks, plus individually-labeled luggage tags for each of the students.
By communities having access to broadband, community connections at work, in schools, nationally, and globally would soar, positively increasing educational statistics and medical outcomes. The future of internet connectivity requires fiber-optic connections to every home. The digital and technology gap that exists between metropolitan citizens and those who reside in rural areas would dwindle as the number of people who had access to fiber-optic internet grew. The process of installing fiber lines would be a costly, hefty project for the U.S. government to undertake, however the functionality of our society, along with the enhancement of working, learning, and accessing essential services, lies within citizens accessing broadband, specifically a fiber-fueled connection, nationwide.