We’ve all heard the shocking statistics. 2.7 billion people worldwide, and 1 in 5 U.S. households remain offline. That is a BIG problem and can certainly feel overwhelming. The question is – do we fully understand the reasons behind these astronomical numbers? We at Ceragon believe that a clearer understanding of the digital divide’s root causes, along with the harmful effects experienced by those on the “wrong side” of the divide, will help to define the strategic paths forward for each community facing this problem.
Multifaceted problems require multilayered solutions, which is why we felt compelled to present a full picture of the digital divide…and our reasons for a tech neutral, hybrid solutions approach to crossing it. With our infographic full of informative statistics, we hope to help both service providers and state officials make more informed decisions about the technologies they propose, and the costs they can expect to incur from those decisions.
We’re here to tell you, there are no shortcuts when it comes to crossing the digital divide. But there is a fast track. However, when we use the term “fast track,” we do not mean “easy.” We mean strategic. So let’s take a closer look at steps our industry can take toward truly crossing the digital divide.
STEP #1: IDENTIFYING ROADBLOCKS TO DIGITAL ACCESS
The reasons for the digital divide are often attributed to rural/remote geographical locations. Although lack of broadband solutions for rural areas is one element contributing to the problem, it is far from the full story. We’ve identified several gaps, or “roadblocks,” that the industry needs to address concurrently to effectively cross the digital divide.
Major Gaps Contributing to the Digital Divide:
- Lack of high-speed broadband availability & access
- Challenges with affordability
- Lack of digital proficiency
Want to learn more about these access gaps?
The root causes behind the digital divide are far-reaching and complex. There is much work to be done from a socioeconomic standpoint as well. This brings us to Step #2, where we examine how these disparities in broadband access detrimentally impact entire groups of people within our communities.
STEP #2: IDENTIFYING HOW BROADBAND GAPS IMPACT AT-RISK COMMUNITIES
The U.S. bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program were signed into law for the purposes of helping people – to get all Americans online, improve the quality of life for millions, and to assist in creating more equitable opportunities for every U.S. citizen. Similar goals for rural internet expansion and equity programs can be found around the world such as the Connecting Europe Facility – Digital or the European Structural and Investment Funds. Regardless of the location, it is the people that matter, and how living without adequate broadband coverage is detrimental to their overall well-being. So, before the large public grants are doled out, we hope that community impact is also thoroughly considered.
While internet access used to be considered a luxury, it is now a necessity. Our infographic shines a spotlight on how a lack of internet negatively impacts people [on the wrong side of the broadband tracks]. Some impacts include:
- Telemedicine is inaccessible
- Employability declines
- Education suffers
The numbers here are astounding and truly illustrate the detrimental impacts felt by those who do not have access to broadband at home.
STEP #3: SMART SOLUTIONS TO PUSH THROUGH FIBER-FIRST TUNNEL VISION
While fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) is the right choice for some places, it is not the best use of taxpayers’ dollars in EVERY location. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFO) breaks with the original plan of remaining tech neutral and specifies that states must give a fiber-first preference when awarding BEAD funding.
What does this mean? Essentially, it is up to each state to define up front how much $$$ per passing they are willing to spend on FTTP deployments, before even considering an alternative technology solution such as hybrid fiber/wireless or fixed wireless internet. Our recent blog, the True Costs of Fiber in the U.S. offers three side-by-side comparisons of real-life FTTP project deployment costs versus our projected wireless/hybrid costs. You will see, there is a BIG difference.
Again, we are all for using fiber where it makes sense – we do not, however, agree that it makes sense everywhere. We urge our hard-working friends at the State Broadband Offices to keep this in mind when setting your Extremely High-Cost Per Location Thresholds (EHCT). Setting your threshold lower will give you more technological flexibility later and will allow for more open conversations about realistically and affordably reaching every resident home and business with high-speed broadband internet.
GETTING ON TRACK TO CROSSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
No one solution will remedy this enormous problem alone. We strongly believe that with a wider understanding of the root causes and negative effects often felt most by at-risk communities; this industry will be better equipped to provide effective solutions that fit each unique project. These places have traditionally been left behind – often due to geographical limitations but also societal impacts. One size does NOT fit all when it comes to broadband connectivity. Avoid the risk of making rural communities wait years more to receive fiber connectivity when they could get equally-as-fast fixed wireless internet or a hybrid solution within days or weeks. Hybrid/wireless networks are the way of the future to affordably get communities connected NOW...not years from now.
Read our infographic, At a Crossroads – Take the Fast Track to Crossing the Digital Divide, to get a clearer picture of the rural broadband expansion landscape and the many factors at play in this journey. Ceragon is here to help you make the right decisions for each unique area and the people who live there. Now’s our chance to cross the digital divide and make things right for all communities of the world.