The digital divide is real and bigger than we could ever comprehend. A majority of people on this planet still lack access to the internet, and a substantial portion of those who do lack access to high-speed internet or broadband. According to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), even 25% of Americans don’t have a broadband connection. That’s a lot of people living in one of the most developed countries in the world. So, why has this divide allowed to exist and what is being done to mitigate it?
The major reason digital divide still exist is that it’s difficult to construct internet infrastructure around the world – especially in remote locations. For broadband, thousands of miles of fiber optic cables have to be placed underground. If the cost of return for such a venture is low, companies won’t build it in the first place. While telecommunication companies thrust the message of global coverage right at our faces, the reality is much darker. Internet coverage is only present in developed nations; that too the extremely rural areas lack it. In developing nations, many urban centers also lack a proper broadband connection. In the developing world, only a select few urban areas have a proper internet connection.
Several companies, however, have taken initiatives to end this digital divide. SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk, has proposed the idea of Starlink, a set of satellites that can provide broadband connection to the whole world. The proposal has been approved by the FCC, and after it’s operational will provide high-speed internet connection in the remote of all places. Facebook has also played around with such similar ideas, instead proposing deploying self-powered drones up in the sky.
In the United States, Microsoft launched the Airband Initiative in 2017 to cover the broadband access gap using a combination of wireless technologies and TV white spaces, traditional fiber-based connectivity, and satellite coverage. It partnered with 16 states to support small and medium ISPs by providing funding for them to expand access to areas currently without broadband, with costs recovered through revenue sharing. This helped the cost of white space network connectivity devices drop from $800 to a much more affordable $300.
However, internet in the urban establishments of developed countries is becoming faster and faster. The advent of quantum internet has deemed not just a faster internet but also one that’s secure. The technology of Starlink will only provide speeds that these urban establishments witnessed in 2015. So maybe the digital divide will forever exist. While global broadband will become a reality, developed countries will deploy quantum internet.
Broadband access is becoming more and more essential to daily life. In order to browse the web quickly, to take online classes, and to watch videos or do other high-bandwidth tasks, high-speed internet is necessary. At least with satellite broadband connection, everybody in the world will have access to that.