As the pandemic (hopefully) continues to wind down here in New York, it is important not to lose site of the valuable lessons we learned during this trying period.
One of these lessons was that conducting business, classes and even healthcare online has benefits. The virtual space can increase efficiency, save money and improve access. However, we also learned and should not forget that the digital divide is real and impacts people’s ability to participate in local government, school, healthcare, work, and other important activities.
The digital divide exists because some people:
- live beyond the physical infrastructure that connects to the internet,
- cannot afford monthly internet subscription fees,
- do not have a device to connect to the internet, and/or
- lack the necessary technical skills.
We must work to close this gap to ensure that all people have the same opportunity to participate in the virtual space – a space where increasingly modern life is happening.
In Hudson Valley counties in 2019 (most recent data available), between 6% and 22% of households did not have an internet subscription. Even in Putnam County, which has the best rates of connectivity for the region, 6% (2,085) of households had no home internet access.
When the pandemic was at its peak and people were at home in quarantine, households without internet were shut off from the world: they were unable to participate in school, work meetings, public meetings, or even see their doctor. When almost every dimension of modern life migrated to the virtual world, those who were not connected to the internet lost out in terms of work opportunities, education, health, and more.
In the Pathway Forward, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress proposes a set of strategies to accelerate the region into the digital worlds and to close the digital divide. Read about the plan for a “digital valley” here.