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The digital divide has never been more apparent

By Jeff Campbell, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Cisco Systems

The pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated the already wide digital divide in this country.

The workforce has transitioned from working in an office to working at home. We’re using virtual meetings and cloud-based tools to keep our teams connected. Small businesses are facilitating appointments, scheduling deliveries and selling merchandise entirely online. In living rooms, kids are attending school remotely while their parents have a virtual doctor’s visit or conduct a work meeting. They’re watching movies on streaming services as a family. And their Thanksgiving table included a laptop linking them with loved ones far away. In a year of unbelievable changes, digital connectivity is what salvaged any sense of normalcy in 2020.

However, this reality of most Americans lies in stark contrast to those without access to reliable, secure, affordable high-speed internet—a reality that’s unfortunately true in millions of homes across America.

A lack of broadband access poses ongoing barriers to economic opportunity and social well-being. This issue is particularly acute for rural Americans. The FCC estimates only 65% of rural residents have access to high-speed fixed service.

In urban centers, where high-speed connections are more likely to exist, the cost leaves many behind. In fact, there may be three times as many households unconnected in urban communities than in rural America.

And for those living on tribal lands, less than 60% have access to high-speed service. Sadly, approximately 1.5 million people on Native American reservations do not even have basic wireless services.

With a new administration and a new Congress comes an opportunity to bridge this growing gap.

Every one of these communities needs high-speed connections so that they can have equal opportunities in jobs, education and health care. Mobile connectivity is also important, and we need to facilitate the transitions to 5G and Wi-Fi 6 through smart spectrum policy. Broadband connectivity is a determining factor in a new business coming to town or attracting job-creating investments. It’s a differentiator between schools keeping pace or falling behind as they teach increasingly digital curriculums.

We need a federal commitment to connect the unconnected while also providing support to businesses, schools, hospitals and other organizations working to enhance their own digital capabilities.

We recognize that Cisco has a role to play. That’s why we’re sharing our expertise with government partners to help them develop better cybersecurity systems and make connections everywhere more secure. Through our Country Digital Acceleration program, Cisco has stepped in to provide wireless technology and set up community hotspots in Dallas, Phoenix and more than 50 sites across Southeast Michigan. And for more than two decades, Cisco’s Networking Academy program has equipped millions of Americans with the digital skills needed to take part in the digital workforce. Every day, we are proud to develop the technology powering the solutions that bring us together and create a more inclusive future.

Connectivity was 2020’s greatest resource. As we overcome this pandemic and the economic damage it has done, we must seize the opportunity to finally bridge the digital divide.

Here’s a list of Country Digital Acceleration projects providing Wi-Fi. 

Read more about how Cisco is closing the digital divide.