Recently, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) added two new terms to its growing glossary: broadband equity and the digital divide. While such terms may seem self-explanatory to those involved in digital inclusion work, it’s important to nail down the specifics. Are we just talking about internet access? People’s ability to use the tools of tech? Owning a computer or large-screen device? Affordable internet service?
NDIA received input from 39 unique members of the digital inclusion community to craft the following definition:
The digital divide is the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not. As technology constantly evolves, the digital divide prevents equal participation and opportunity in all parts of life, disproportionately affecting people of color, Indigenous peoples, households with low incomes, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, and older adults.
As this definition makes clear, a holistic explanation of the digital divide includes the affordability of devices and internet services as well as digital skills. Those on the “wrong side” of the digital divide face economic and social disadvantages — especially as our world increasingly relies on digital communication.
Another helpful definition to know is broadband equity. According to the NDIA, “broadband equity is achieved when all people and communities are able to access and use affordable, high-speed, reliable internet that meets their long-term needs.”
While equality ensures that everyone has the same access to resources, equity provides the additional help and resources needed to ensure that people can use the tools available to them. Those who live in rural areas without sufficient broadband infrastructure or those with lower incomes may need extra assistance in securing internet access.
Subsidies and low-cost internet service plans — like the FCC’s Lifeline program or Comcast Internet Essentials — can help with affordability. But many people also need assistance in completing the right paperwork, checking eligibility, and setting up routers and other equipment. Broadband equity is about considering the nuances of individual situations, then ensuring that everyone is fully supported in receiving equal access.
Graphic sourced from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.