How many times over the past year have you been kicked off a zoom call and said “sorry, I got kicked off…can you repeat that?” It was frustrating and I kept thinking “I don’t pay for shi**y internet service.” We relied heavily on technology for every aspect of our lives the past year or so; from telehealth to online classes to mobile menus/payments. It made life so much easier for everyone…right?
According to a McKinsey Global Survey, during COVID
“companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years”
In the below charts we can see how consumers interacting on digital platforms has accelerated globally. Not only are customers moving towards a digital world, but companies are also moving increasingly towards providing more products and services that are digitized.
Much of our course explores how to enable and sustain digital transformation in companies. In this blog, I want to talk about the digital divide that exists amongst the very progressive digital transformation taking place in society today. Is everyone profiting from Digital Transformation? Is there a Digital Divide that still exists, even in a developed country like ours?
During the peak of COVID, I wanted to see my family for thanksgiving. So, there I was at 4 am, standing in line outside an urgent care in torrential rain, waiting to get a COVID test. There were at least 50 other people in line with me of various ages. When the doors opened, we were told we need to scan the QR Code and fill out an application on our mobile devices, we would then get called to come inside and take the test. The young people in line, like myself, took the link through the QR code and started filling out the application. However, I noticed a lot of the older people didn’t know how to open the link from a QR code, or they didn’t have smartphones. As a result, even though many older people came early and got in line, they ended up applying late after getting help from the clinic. The folks that came later ended up being able to get their tests earlier, while the older people waited extra-long in their cars to get the test calls. This is one example of how the digital divide became very evident during COVID.
Now think of the above story, and replicate it for Telehealth, for mobile payments, for mobile ordering, etc. It’s not just a divide of old and young, but also of rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and uneducated, etc.
When I think of the digital divide, I think of internet access. Broadband access enables populations to be more educated, have access to opportunities, and be part of today’s digital world. Considering how developed the US is, I would have thought access to the internet is not a barrier here. When I looked at the statistics, I was surprised. According to data collected by ITU, 50% of Rural America has no internet access. I wondered; how could this be? Why is this? So, I investigated it more.
5 basic factors dictate broadband access and affordability; Geographical Disparities, Competition, Profit based Discrimination, Technology deployment cost, and Socio-economic factors.
- Geographical Disparities – Where you live is directly tied to broadband access, even in the US. In rural areas, investment in broadband infrastructure is not profitable for companies, mostly due to population density being lower. Since there is limited infrastructure, the cost of providing internet services in rural areas is higher; as much as 80% higher than in urban areas. This leads to the high cost of subscription for customers in urban areas.
- Competition – The more Broadband provider options there are, the cheaper the subscription is. But if there are only a few options, especially in rural areas, then affordability takes a hit.
- Profit based Discrimination – Low-income, rural, minority groups have the short stick in the digital divide. Broadband companies know these groups are price-sensitive, and it also costs more to provide service in rural areas; it’s not worth it for these companies to target this group.
- Technology Deployment Cost – To deploy internet service to marginalized communities is expensive for the providers. Without the proper infrastructure and population density, a steady stream of profits is not guaranteed.
- Socio-economic factors – We know education leads to opportunities. In today’s world, the internet plays a huge role in education. Without broadband access, digital education will be lacking, and hence these marginalized groups will remain disconnected. Students who are studying may not be employed and will not be able to afford internet access. Older populations don’t see the value in it and may not adapt as easily or willingly.
We know education leads to opportunities. In today’s world, the internet plays a huge role in education. Without broadband access, digital education will be lacking, and hence these marginalized groups will remain disconnected. Students who are studying may not be employed and will not be able to afford internet access. Older populations don’t see the value in it and may not adapt as easily or willingly.
Having access to the internet is such a “normal” part of my life. I don’t think about it much, everyone around me can take out their phone and look something up at any moment. It’s hard to imagine a part of the US that is not like this. The world is moving towards digitization at an unprecedented rate; more digital products/services and users – may be broadening the digital divide. The five factors discussed in this blog are roadblocks to broadband access and affordability. Is there a way we can address the digital divide in United States? Could we use digital transformation and technological advances to somehow address this problem? Turns out, not only do I pay for Shi**y internet service, but I should also be grateful for it.