The unconnected and the under connected: the real costs of lost opportunities

noun_342310_ccThose who find themselves on the other side of the Digital divide bear very real economic, social and political costs to being excluded from an increasingly digitally geared paradigm from education to upward mobility to health care. With online technologies at the core of most elementary and higher education efforts today, school children without home broadband access struggle to keep up with homework and maintaining good grades thus leading to highly unequal learning environments. Research by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Rutgers University identifies loss of educational opportunities for children from low-income children in two ways: an access gap and a participation gap.

noun_166325_ccJob seekers without access to broadband services are at a distinct disadvantage in finding and being considered for promising career opportunities, given that a majority of recruitment has moved exclusively online. Significant savings from online only deals, online stores and time saved through doing transactions and finding services online (banking, taxes, bill payments, applying for schools and colleges) are also options that people without Internet access don’t have. According to a 2011 study done by the Internet Innovation Alliance, an average household in the US stood to gain USD 8000 in savings annually simply by leveraging the benefits of a home broadband connection.
noun_658_ccThere are other unseen facets to being under connected or unconnected that further compound this problem. Given the patterns of access inequity, the browsing habits or technical literacy of low income Internet users are rarely if ever taken into account into design making digital technologies even more inaccesible. In Click to Connect, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, it was found that purposive searching for health based information was low among the urban poor given that they faced significant challenges to usability, navigation and accessing information above their literacy levels.

Policy, design and technology initiatives by states, corporations, multi-lateral organizations and non-profits are attempting to address this inequity and come up with solutions that can provide access to the Internet to the unconnected populations of the world whether they are in sub-Saharan Africa or inner city Detroit. Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s president, has said “We must continue to connect everyone and leave no one behind, because the cost of lost opportunities is enormous.”