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Meka Egwuekwe: We must close the digital divide in America

Meka Egwuekwe | Chicago Tribune

Published 11:00 a.m. CT Feburary 15, 2024

President Joe Biden speaks in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Jan. 18, 2024. Biden recently touted his administration’s goal of internet for all in North Carolina. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

According to a 2023 article in Forbes, 42 million Americans have no access to broadband. In our interconnected world, lack of broadband feeds the digital divide, and if you think that doesn’t affect you, well, you’re wrong.

I am talking to you, the Midwestern farmer, the single mother of three in Chicago, the family-man rancher in Texas, the free-spirited woman in Vermont, the high-flying executive in New York, the hardworking immigrant in New Mexico, the coal miner in Kentucky, the snowbird in Florida, the artist in San Francisco and the homeowner in every American suburb.

Stereotypes like these aside, closing the digital divide is an imperative that demands the attention of every individual. By focusing on closing this divide for all households, we pave the way for a safer, more prosperous and united society. Embracing this endeavor benefits America, as it strengthens national security, enhances public safety, reduces dependence on government support, promotes personal freedom and drives economic growth. Uniting in the vision of empowering all families through digital inclusion should matter to you because it benefits you and our nation as a whole.

Ensuring that all families have access to broadband internet and digital skills bolsters our national security. A digitally connected population is more resilient against cyber threats and disinformation campaigns that can undermine our economy and our democratic processes. A digitally connected America fortifies our nation’s defenses, ensuring the safety of our critical infrastructure and sensitive information. Access to digital resources empowers communities to stay informed about local safety initiatives, emergency services and crime prevention efforts. Digital connectivity facilitates quicker communication with law enforcement and access to public safety resources, fostering safer neighborhoods for all residents.

Bridging the digital divide offers a pathway for families to become more self-reliant and reduce dependence on government assistance. Access to digital education and online job opportunities empowers individuals to seek better economic prospects, improve their skills and pursue gainful employment. As families grow more self-sufficient, they contribute to a stronger economy and reduce the burden on social support programs, ultimately benefiting our entire nation. And think about this: Promoting digital inclusion for all actually advances personal freedom for everyone. In an increasingly digital world, access to information, education and communication is essential to personal liberty. Empowering communities with digital tools allows residents to exercise their right to access information, express their views and engage in online discourse.

To achieve these significant milestones, we must confront specific challenges head-on. The lack of physical infrastructure continues to plague remote and underserved regions, both in terms of broadband availability and access to connected devices. It is imperative that we champion the equitable implementation of federal infrastructure programs such as the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program and the Digital Equity Act.

The fallacy of pitting rural against urban must be rejected; these two sides are not at odds but rather united in the pursuit of a digitally connected nation. Affordability remains a significant hurdle, underscoring the need to reinforce programs such as the Affordable Connectivity Program.

As affordable access and connected devices are secured, the challenge of effective use comes to the fore. Investment in digital literacy, digital skills and digital education programs is crucial. The nurturing of these competencies, particularly through community institutions such as libraries, schools and community centers, holds the key to empowering individuals with the tools they need for the digital era.

Moreover, recognizing the impact of factors such as age and language barriers is pivotal. Intergenerational learning initiatives can bridge gaps in families and communities, fostering an environment of mutual digital growth. Simultaneously, the creation of multilingual online resources and training materials acknowledges the diverse linguistic and cultural tapestry of our nation.

When the day comes when there is no digital divide, fostering a more united economy everyone benefits from, our country will propel into incredible economic growth. By empowering all communities with digital skills, we unlock a wealth of untapped talent, creativity and entrepreneurship. As families actively participate in the digital economy, they contribute to job creation, innovation and economic diversification.

Embracing digital inclusion is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the future of our nation. Let us stand united in the pursuit of empowering families, creating a stronger, safer and more prosperous America for all its citizens.

Meka Egwuekwe is executive director of CodeCrew, a nonprofit that empowers youths and adults from underrepresented communities to be tech innovators.

Check out The Chicago Tribune article here 


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