Remote Work, In- Home Education and the Digital Divide.

on January 26, 2021

In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of working with the State of Hawaii to help push the State to accelerate its rollout of high-speed internet connections for their schools.

Although I was born and grew up in Silicon Valley, many of the Filipino side of my family all lived in Hawaii. I was concerned about this State’s understanding of how important I felt the Internet would be for their schools.

I admit my concern was a bit selfish as I had many nieces and nephews in the Hawaii school system. I wanted them to have the same accessibility to high-speed Internet connections that had already become prevalent in California and other states on the mainland by 2000.

I worked directly with the Hawaii Governor at that time, Benjamin Cayetano, to help him and the Hawaii legislature understand the importance of the Internet to its schools and businesses. To his credit, Governor Cayetano moved swiftly to expand Internet connections to all of Hawaii’s schools and became a champion of various high tech initiatives to help the state expand its various tech programs.

An interesting side note to this is that a high-tech exec I know, who grew up on Lanai, knew that the schools there did not have Internet connections, let alone computers for their students. He personally bought computers for a computer lab in the one school Lanai has so that the kids there could have the benefits of their counterparts on the other islands.

Since that time, all States in the US have expanded their high-end internet networks to almost all of their schools and it has become a backbone technology for all education systems in the US and around the world.

However, the coronavirus has shown how unequal access to technology itself divides us. And the implementation of telecommuting has made these issues even worse and disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic Americans.

When people work from home or are forced to home school, they typically need access to a computer, internet speedy enough to handle video calls, and space to work without distractions — and there’s a clear racial divide when it comes to having these things.

Axios recently pointed out these disparities and listed the following data points-

  • Per a 2019 report from Pew Research Center, 58% of Black adults and 57% of Hispanic adults have a laptop or desktop computer, compared with 82% of white adults.
  • 66% of Black adults and 61% of Hispanic adults have broadband access at home. Among white adults, the share is 79%.
  • According to a recent survey from WayUp, Black and Hispanic job applicants are 145% more likely than their white counterparts to be concerned about their ability to do a job remotely.

Solving this type of disparity needs to become a priority sooner than later in the current presidential administration. I realize they have higher priorities to deal with immediately related to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the economy, and other areas that are needed to get our nation back on track.

But making sure that all Americans have high-speed access to the Internet as well as the types of devices and tools needed to help them learn and work, regardless of race or creed, also needs serious attention.

From an industry standpoint, the prices of laptops and especially Chromebooks making it more feasible for even low-income families to have a least one device in the home that can connect to the Internet.

However, here in Silicon Valley, perhaps the most tech-literate area in the US, I have been told by at least two friends that some students in East San Jose’s less affluential region do not have computers of their own unless their school district supplies them.

We are in a digital age that demands connectivity and devices that connect to the Internet and equality mean that the US government, private agencies, and even corporate support need to take this challenge seriously and make sure all workers, as well as students, have equal chances for success.