People living in areas of the world where technology, connected devices, and reliable connectivity are not readily available or affordable are simply unable to keep pace with a modernizing and digitizing world. It has been widely established that a lack of access to technology limits educational and employment opportunities, reduces the availability of health information and services, and generally leads to a lower quality of life. It’s called the digital divide and it is a problem that has become more pervasive as internet usage continues to expand.
Sadly, despite advancements in telecommunications and internet technologies, billions around the world continue to remain disconnected, even in developed countries, and experience many challenges as a result. The United Nations estimates that almost half the global population is still offline.
In an earlier blog post, we presented some data that illustrates the disparity between those with technology and internet access and those without. We also identified some of the ways the telecommunications industry is working to narrow the gap, such as expanding network infrastructure to reach underserved and remote locations, and leveraging new technologies like satellite and lower-cost networks. In this post, we take a look at some of the steps technology companies – both large and small – are taking to ensure greater digital equity around the world.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network
Among its many ventures and enterprises, Amazon has been building a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network specifically to provide “reliable, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world” using small, low-cost antennas. Established in 2019, Project Kuiper intends to bring internet access to tens of millions of people via a constellation of more than 3,000 satellites, with the prototypes expected to be launched later this year.
25 companies support “One Million Connected Devices Now”
Proctor & Gamble has rallied a range of companies, including technology stalwarts Dell, Intel, and Microsoft, to distribute one million connected devices to students in disadvantaged and low-income communities in the U.S. as part of a program called One Million Connected Devices Now. The devices have been distributed to younger students who, in the wake of the pandemic and enhanced emphasis on digital learning, have fallen behind in their education. Since its launch in 2021, the coalition of companies has committed $25 million to this effort.
Lenovo digital skills and hardware initiative
Laptop manufacturer Lenovo has rolled out a digital equity program in the UK and Ireland, donating both hardware and expertise to combat widespread digital poverty. In addition to donating £1 for every laptop sold, the company is providing digital skills and technology-related educational services to disadvantaged families and children. The goal of the program is to ensure that technology, time, and money reach those most in need to build a sustainable digital society.
Multiple technology startups have emerged in recent years which have accrued impressive levels of funding to commercialize innovative ideas designed to help close the digital divide. In Kenya, BRCK is aiming to solve unstable connectivity issues with the development of a robust router that can search between networks even in the absence of an electrical connection. In India, Lokal is supporting connectivity efforts in the business community with a social media platform that connects local merchants with consumers, enabling them to conduct business and share information. In Cambodia, AMK Microfinance Institution is helping small-scale rural farmers, of whom only 25% own a smartphone, access financial services as well as market and farming information via a dedicated mobile application.
The data suggests that the road to closing the divide and enhancing digital equity is a long one. But, in various ways and with different approaches, technology companies have joined communications service providers and government organizations in responding to the need to expand the availability of affordable technology and to ensure that as many people as possible can join and thrive in today’s interconnected, digital world.