Internet: Access for All?
In recent years, particularly, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become evident that access to the internet is critical to daily life. In March of 2020, American schools were forced to close their in-person instruction, and only those who had access to the internet could continue to learn. Internet access in the 21st century can no longer be viewed as a luxury; it should now be considered a necessity with public access. This, however, is not the case because many groups of people, particularly those in low-income communities, are disenfranchised. Thus, as a society, it is our moral obligation to ensure that all Americans have internet access.
According to a 2018 report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), half of the world’s population is still offline. The reality is that the lack of internet has devastating societal ramifications. Currently, internet use is overwhelmingly accessed by advanced economies, while those unable to access the internet represent developing nations and lower-income communities. Connectivity allows those with access to enter what ITU describes as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Internet data enables individuals to access a plethora of information – political, social, medical, and educational as well as access to services, education, and products that are reserved only to the wealthy few of society. Thus, the lack of internet continues the suppression of those already disadvantaged throughout the world.
America’s stay at home orders in response to COVID-19 highlighted a strong nation’s weakness. A 2020 statistic offered by the National Center for Education Statistics reported more than 9 million American school-aged children lacked the primary resource, the internet, needed to participate in online learning. The result, no access to free public education – a key marker that has historically defined America as the land of opportunity. This means that America’s children, America’s greatest future human resource, are being neglected.
The ITU highlights countless studies and stories that demonstrate the significant economic benefits of internet access for all. One such story is that of a poor Indonesian businessman whose income increased seven-fold in less than a year when internet access was provided. Internet access not only changed this man but also had significant economic benefits for his family, his community, and future generations.
Regardless if individuals disagree with the notion of access to free internet, the economic benefits cannot be ignored. Access to the internet elevates societies just as limited internet access stifles their development.
White, E., & Pinsky, O. (2018, May 30). Half the world's population is still offline. Here's why that matters. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://news.itu.int/half-the-worlds-population-is-still-offline-heres-why-that-matters/
4.4 million households with children don’t have consistent access to computers for online learning during the pandemic. (2020, October 19). Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://usafacts.org/articles/internet-access-students-at-home/