Irrigating America’s Driest Digital Desert

Dave Abel is the President and CEO of Aventiv Technologies. Follow me Twitter.

Desert: The word itself refers to an unforgiving climate where plants and animals struggle to grow or survive. The time has come to pursue human rights due to market failure in vulnerable communities. There are medical deserts, where Americans, rural or urban, struggle to access primary and preventive care, leading to complications and preventable conditions. There are food deserts, where residents do not have access to affordable, nutritious food. There are public transport deserts, making it difficult for residents, who often have low incomes, to get to work, let alone quit. Inexpensive, accessible technology can help solve all of these social deserts.

For years, America’s regulatory landscape has become the largest digital wasteland of all. But today, they are becoming a good example of how groups of people and organizations together can solve the process and disruption of the market and use technology to help citizens grow the most valuable resource of all: what can be done.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have a new appreciation for the role technology plays in connecting us to services and keeping us in touch with our loved ones. Telemedicine went from an experiment to a necessity, getting us out of doctors’ waiting rooms. Zoom became the verb for how much we worked and how kids stayed in touch with grandparents or school when public events were too dangerous.

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But it also highlighted two very different Americas in terms of digital. According to the FCC, “19 million Americans – about 6 percent of the population – do not have access to high-speed broadband.” These digital deserts suffer from “internet connectivity gaps, computer access, and reliance on mobile phones to access computers,” according to WILMAPCO.

Technological deserts reflect social and cultural differences. There are three times more households in urban areas than in rural areas. And families living below the poverty line, people of color and people with low levels of education live in modern deserts. These same behaviors are common among Americans incarcerated, and this is no coincidence.

This digital divide was difficult in providing online classes to students’ families when schools were closed due to Covid-19. The Education Trust reports that 50% of low-income families and 42% of families of color lack the technology needed for online education. This opportunity gap has become an achievement gap that disproportionately affects low-income, underserved students, the consequences of which will rock our country for years to come.

Even the Census was affected. In 2020, this difference may be due to accountability and age-based accounting methods, which governments use to allocate resources. More than twice as many households in affluent areas responded to the survey using the Internet than those in technological deserts, which could count less and allocate less money to those who need it most over the next decade.

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Ironically, an area in our community that for many years was the most neglected, poorly maintained and unsafe wilderness of all control areas – provides more than just an idea of ​​how to use technology in our country.

With Covid-19 shutting down, reducing or eliminating the social networks of loved ones for people in prison – the population my company serves – the digital divide is more difficult than ever. Those with access to video calls and e-mails were able to isolate themselves better by maintaining close relationships with family and friends. A growing body of research shows that programs aimed at strengthening bonds between incarcerated individuals and their loved ones improve mental health, reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of finding and maintaining employment after incarceration.

When in-person education was affected, those with access to online programs – designed to support, not substitute for, individual education – were able to overcome the disruption. Those who are lucky enough to have a secure tablet – with music, podcasts and education – have also managed to cope with this disruption in daily activities. Indeed, the center described how important technology became in preventing violence and chaos when other centers of energy and thought were temporarily closed to the public due to the epidemic.

This is a teachable moment for all of us. Supporters, experts and even management of control centers who in the past had reason to doubt the use of technology in offices – whether it was because of security concerns or the possibility that it could replace human activities – saw its importance. But more than that, we all saw the important work that was done in providing secure technology. Only small companies have had the resources over the past four years to deploy hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, consistently and reliably, to create technology where there was none.

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Just as Walmart’s partnership with inner cities and First Lady Michelle Obama helped combat food deserts and inner-city food, community-based partnerships were essential in creating the digital backbone of hundreds of grocery stores. As in addressing health inequities, businesses, policymakers and advocates each play an important role in reducing technology deserts and ensuring equal opportunities for all Americans.

Digital deserts stymie opportunities for millions of Americans, especially those who cannot afford to move elsewhere. Where you live do not limit your potential. No population has this more than the American incarcerated population. But together, in solidarity, we are pointing the way forward to the day when something wonderful can grow in the digital wilderness of the past: hope.

The Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only group of the world’s top CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?


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