The fruits of digital innovation are not shared equally. An invisible but very real digital divide separates those of us who have advanced in the information age and those of us who risk being left behind.
Some aspects of the digital divide have persisted for years or decades. Take broadband access. According to FCC’s Eighth Broadband Progress Report, 19 million Americans, or 6% of the population, do not have reliable broadband access at threshold speeds. About a quarter of all rural Americans do not have reliable broadband.
Other aspects deepened or surfaced again amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of U.S. professionals working in the office switched to remote work virtually overnight as the pandemic took hold. Many continue to work remotely; some may never set foot in a shared office again. Yet millions more had no choice but to continue working in person, often risking their lives. For them, the daily chore of Zoom meeting professionals and Slack chats was and remains a pleasant but distant dream.
As the era of the pandemic transforms into something akin to normalcy, employers and other stakeholders in the United States and beyond are mobilizing to fight the digital divide. It is difficult and continuous work, but these efforts offer reasons for optimism.
1. Invest in digital healthcare solutions
As the pandemic took hold, US regulators relaxed long-standing restrictions on telehealth services. Providers applauded the move as heralding a new era in healthcare delivery in the United States, one where patients would no longer need to travel for hours to access specialized or even routine care. in person.
The rise of telehealth and digital healthcare applications holds particular promise for behavioral health providers able to provide high-quality remote care in the right regulatory environment. Investment in digital behavioral health has exploded in pandemic era, notes Dallas CEO Stuart Archer Oceans Health. But despite sensible pandemic reforms, this regulatory environment remains elusive.
“Forward-thinking providers must continue to advocate for meaningful reform of payments and the enforcement of parity laws that support our ability to provide this essential care,” said Archer. “We also need to invest in new ways to integrate digital tools into in-person care delivery, before, during and after treatment. “
2. Subsidize high-speed residential Internet for employees
The pandemic’s early shift to remote work went more smoothly than many employers feared, as many white-collar workers already had high-speed internet access at home and other office ‘must-haves’. productive home. But these capacities were not universally shared; many ill-equipped employees languished.
In response, some employers have gone above and beyond to equip their employees with high-speed home internet. As expensive as it is to cover the cost of installing and maintaining enterprise-grade broadband in a home environment, these employers see it as a necessary business expense in the future that does not distinguish between ‘home’ and ‘home’. office “.
“Businesses are navigating new territory when it comes to work-from-home expenses,” said Analisse Dunne, head of human operations at Nulab. SHRM. “It’s more important than ever to make sure workers have the equipment and resources they need to do their jobs.
3. Offer affordable financial solutions for the unbanked
More than 5% of American households still do not have a bank account. In fiscal policy parlance, they are unbanked.
These Americans face a litany of direct and indirect costs, including predatory interest on credit products like payday loans and fees on check cashing services. Since most of the unbanked are in the bottom quartile of U.S. earners, these costs fall on those who can least afford them.
Fortunately, the financial industry is experiencing a wave of innovation that is bringing affordable and scalable financial management solutions to this underserved cohort. Using money transfer apps like PayPal and Venmo and paycheck advance apps like Brigit, consumers can now manage their finances without depending on predatory lenders or racking up physical cash. As these solutions become more sophisticated and user-friendly, the share of unbanked U.S. households will continue to decline.
The digital divide will not close
The digital divide has taken years to evolve to its current state. It certainly won’t close, unless by ‘close’ we mean ‘close in response to concerted and urgent action by those with a stake in a more equitable digital future’.
Fortunately, these stakeholders are doing important work to bridge the digital divide right now. They are investing in digital healthcare delivery solutions with the goal of modernizing a large and essential part of the economy. They provide teams with professional-quality internet from the comfort of their own homes. They provide much needed digital finance solutions for those excluded from the global monetary system.