Digital innovation is not for everyone. A digital divide exists that is invisible but very real and separates those ahead of the curve in the information age from those in danger of being left behind.
Some aspects that make up the digital divide persist for many years or even decades. Consider broadband access. According to FCC’s Eighth Broadband Progress Report (19 million Americans) – 6% of the country has no reliable broadband access at minimum speeds. A quarter of all Americans living in rural areas lack reliable broadband.
Other aspects have been affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. As the pandemic struck, millions of U.S. professionals who were confined to offices switched to remote work. Many of these professionals continue to work remotely. Some may never return to a shared office again. Many others, however, had no choice but to continue to work in person, sometimes at significant personal risks. The professional’s day of Zoom meetings and Slack chats was a distant but pleasant dream.
As the pandemic turns into something more regular, many employers and stakeholders from the U.S. and worldwide are working together to reduce the digital divide. These efforts are not easy and require constant struggle, but they offer hope.
1. Investing in Digital Healthcare Solutions
As the pandemic hit, U.S. regulators eased long-standing restrictions on telecommuting services. The new U.S. healthcare delivery model is celebrated by providers who cheered it to allow patients to no more prolonged need to travel hours to get specialist or routine care.
The rise of digital healthcare apps and telehealth is particularly promising, which are especially beneficial for behavioral health providers who can provide high-quality remote services in a safe regulatory environment. Stuart Archer, CEO at Oceans Healthcare in Dallas, says that digital behavioral healthcare investment has risen dramatically since the pandemic. Despite sensible pandemic reforms, however, this regulatory environment remains elusive.
Archer says that forward-thinking providers need to continue advocating for meaningful payment reforms and parity law enforcement to support their ability to provide this vital care. We must also find new ways to incorporate digital tools into the delivery and management of in-person healthcare, whether it is before, during, or after treatment.
2. High-Speed Home Internet is available to employees.
Because many white-collar workers already had high-speed internet access and all the “must-haves” of a productive work environment, the shift from pandemic to remote work was more straightforward than employers thought. However, these capabilities weren’t shared by everyone; many people who were not well-equipped languished.
Employers have taken extra measures to ensure that their employees have high-speed Internet access at home. It is expensive to set up and maintain high-speed broadband in a home environment. However, these employers consider it a necessary business expense.
SHRM is told by Analisse Duncan, Nulab’s people operations manager, that “businesses are finding new ground when it comes to the expenses associated with working at home.” “It is more important than ever that workers have all the resources and equipment they need to complete their job.”
3. Affordable Financial Solutions Available for the Unbanked
More than 5% still don’t have a U.S. bank account. They’re not banked in fiscal policy terms.
This American faces a litany of direct and indirect costs. These include predatory interest on credit products, such as payday loans and fees on check-cashing services. These costs fall on the poorest Americans because most of those unbanked live in the lowest quartile of U.S. earnings.
The financial sector is experiencing an innovation wave that brings affordable and scaleable money management solutions to this poorer segment. With cash transfer apps such as PayPal and Venmo, and payday advance apps such as Brigit, consumers can manage their finances without the need for predatory lenders or holding onto cash. As these apps become more sophisticated and users are more comfortable with them, the percentage of Americans without bank accounts will continue to drop.
The Digital Divide Doesn’t Close Itself.
To reach its current status, the digital divide was created over many years. It will not close itself, except if we refer to “close in response” to coordinated, urgent action from those with a stake.
These stakeholders are working hard to reduce the digital divide. They’re investing heavily in digital healthcare delivery to modernize an important sector of the economy. They offer enterprise-grade Internet access to teams at their homes. They are providing digital finance solutions to those who are not part of the global monetary system.