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What Happened to the Digital Divide?

The proverbial ‘digital divide’ that exists throughout the U.S. (and on a global scale) has been a major consideration for telecommunications providers and end users alike as the world has continued to digitally transform. For awhile, you couldn’t even touch anything related to technology or telecommunications without coming across the words — but the world of news and tech moves fast, and now it seems like maybe the focus on this challenge is gone. Is it?

While it’s true that the sphere of conversation surrounding new innovations and trends keeps moving and is now shining lights on new topics like AI, 6G and more, the digital divide still persists. In fact, it’s a very real reality for many individuals — especially in the more rural parts of the country. Some might even say that as developments across healthcare, education, government, manufacturing and more continue to grow, the divide isn’t receding but expanding. Because of this constant digital innovation, in some ways, the gap between those with access to game-changing, life-altering technologies (and the resources to gain literacy about them) and those without it is increasing. This has disastrous consequences when you consider just how many aspects of modern life that internet connectivity has a hand in. From K-12 educational opportunities to life-saving medical wearables and treatment options, those who go without proper access are at a distinct disadvantage.

However, there’s more nuance to this story than just bad news, and it’s crucial that everyone keeps tabs on the evolution of this vital element of our collective development. With that in mind, let’s get into a digital divide update.

The Climate of Digital Investment 

Where there have historically been digital divides, there has also historically been investment — and fortunately, that’s a parallel that doesn’t show signs of dissipating any time soon. In fact, reports are showing us that state broadband offices have grown in size thanks to financial resources supplied by projects like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Even in a couple of short years, major strides have been made in building the administrative foundations that are necessary to bridging divides: In 2020, more than half of all states operated broadband offices (though a number of them only had a couple of employees to support efforts), but now, every state and territory has formally designated an office or agency to serve as the primary broadband entity. This is good news for efforts to expand robust, fast internet. Still, the funding is flowing in, and even more plans to pump money into these broadband efforts are still coming down the pipeline.

Underserved regions of the U.S. can also rejoice in the fact that service providers are continuing their push to establish proper connectivity, expanding their fiber footprints to continue linking businesses and families alike to mission-critical services. On the homefront, Horizon has been proudly underscoring its mission to connect in-need communities with its aggressive Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) push, which has provided thousands of miles of fiber and passed hundreds of thousands of homes that now have the ability to link up to high-speed internet. It’s continued efforts like these that have helped our team be honored with awards like the 2022 Dr. Charles Kao Award, which recognizes individuals, organizations, and companies that leverage innovation to connect communities with fiber broadband.

Still, bridging the digital divide is an industry-wide and nation-wide effort — and we’re certainly not the only ones building on in hopes of one day delivering that fully and equally connected world we all aspire to.

Taking Stock

So, where do we really stand? While the FCC does put out reports on broadband progress, the latest is only from January 2021, and depending on your perspective, it can be a hopeful stance on progress — or a view into just how much work we still have to do. While in the last three years, the number of Americans without access to certain speeds of fixed broadband has been essentially halved, others focus on the fact that tens of millions of Americans still are unable to access online school, work and healthcare to the extent that is now considered necessary.

In summary, perhaps the best way to chalk all of the efforts and goals up is to include good news and bad news: The digital divide is continuing to narrow, but for those that still remain under-connected, the perils of remaining behind the pace of digital innovation grows. So, it may well be that the problem in itself is changing. Although more and more are connected every day due to a mix of funding and focused deployment, the rate of expansion must continue to increase to solve what can be seen as an exponentially expanding gap for those currently left behind — so the race is on.

It’s for these reasons that Horizon takes its dedicated investment in its communities and customers, as well as its reputation as a trusted network specialist, very seriously. Not only are we always connecting new regions and customers to our state-of-the-art network, but we’re also continuing to revolutionize capabilities for our existing customers with the next-gen technologies they need.

To learn more about Horizon’s network solutions, click here. To learn more about Horizon’s recent broadband expansions, click here.


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