Working Together to Bridge the Digital Divide

Access and comfort with the internet and technology has become a deciding factor in whether or not Americans can fully participate in the United States’ economic, political, and social life. 

The internet is improving an individual’s ability to start new businesses, advancing new skill development for workers through online learning courses and curriculum, as well as improving access to affordable goods, services, and critical healthcare solutions through innovative telehealth options. 

Every industry is integrating technology and IoT into core aspects of the American workplace and are rapidly pushing the boundaries of innovation. Within the next ten years, the digital divide will become a quantum leap, and with it, the potential to permanently disenfranchise minority and rural communities who continue to face the lowest rates of broadband connectivity.

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HTTP Member organizations have been working to bridge the digital divide and ensure that Latinx communities nationwide have the access, technology, and digital skills they need to fully participate in civil life and attain new heights of educational attainment and economic mobility. 

As national community empowerment organizations, HTTP’s coalition of 17 of national Latinx organizations continue to be the first line of defense and critical advocates ensuring that the country’s fastest growing consumer group has an equal opportunity to participate and benefit from today’s digital economy. 

Each organization works to fill an important gap in the digital ecosystem and drive community connectivity through digital inclusion efforts in every major metro area and to represent important lifelines at the intersections of race, ability, gender, language, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other vulnerable characteristics--with programs like LULAC’s nationwide network of community technology centers, SER’s Robotics Program, Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s LOFT Charlas, and MANA’s Hermanitas mentoring initiative (to name only a few). 

Credit should also be given where credit is due, and in 2019 significant headway has been made to narrow the divide on the part of regulators, including efforts like the establishment of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection by the Federal Communication Commission to better identify gaps in broadband coverage and the authorization of the second wave of funding to deploy rural broadband from the Connect America Fund Auction.

Internet service providers have also picked up the ball with their offerings of low-cost internet options to ensure affordable broadband access for low-income households nationwide--with Comcast leading the pack with their Internet Essentials program. Through their affordable contract free internet service, Comcast has connected over 8 million low-income families, and this year Comcast expanded the program to nearly three million more households by making it available to families who qualify for more than a dozen federal assistance programs, representing the largest expansion in their company’s history. AT&T, Cox, Mediacom, and Spectrum also offer low-income internet programs, delivering speeds of up to 30 Mbps for an average cost of $10.96 a month. 

Despite these efforts, Latinx communities nationwide continue to lag behind in broadband adoption leading to a higher dependency on mobile technology as the primary source for internet access. Lack of at home broadband access limits the economic mobility and educational attainment of Latinx communities and is quickly creating a two-tiered economy which limits opportunity and slows the rate of innovation. 

Bridging the digital divide demands bold action by everyone fueling the expansion of our digital ecosystem. We are past the point where we should be aiming for incremental progress or symbolic gestures. Fulfilling the promise of the internet economy is dependent on cross-sector collaboration along with thoughtful, well-constructed public & private partnerships, and an integrated and well-coordinated strategy, coupled with a regulatory and policy environment that incentivizes smart growth to historically disconnected communities.