Newswise — The COVID-19 pandemic shed a glaring light on the important role that technology and access to high-speed internet play our lives. Without an internet connection, you would not be capable of reading this story. Without broadband, how would you communicate with your loved ones, do your homework, or pay your bills?
Cynthia K. Sanders is an associate professor and director of the online program in the College of Social Work. She is the lead author of an article in the Journal of Human Rights and Social Work in which she argues that access to high-speed Internet, or broadband, should be considered a human right and social justice issue. Access to high-speed internet is a major problem for low-income people of color, seniors, Native Americans, and rural residents. Sanders joined the University of Utah on July 2021.
” “Much of my work revolves around financial, political or social inclusion,” stated Sanders. “The digital divide is a clear indicator of social exclusion. There are many factors that go along with broadband access, including how we view our lives and the opportunities available to us. This is especially evident in the context of the pandemic. It creates a clear social exclusion situation.”
At least 20 million Americans do not have access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Sanders said that some estimates range from millions to billion. Although federal funds are available to address broadband internet access, Sanders and Edward Scanlon, her co-author from the University of Kansas argue that the digital divide should be considered more than just a policy issue or infrastructure problem.
” When we know that people without broadband internet are already in disadvantages in many ways, it should be treated as a human rights issue and social justice problem.” said Sanders. It’s not just about whether or not broadband is available in certain places. It may be available but not all people have the means or resources to use it. Even if they have the equipment or the financial means to purchase it, many people don’t have the digital literacy skillset necessary to use it effectively. This includes accessing information and health records, applying for jobs, and keeping in touch with family . Sanders stated that there are excellent examples of community-based and grassroots initiatives that can help reduce the digital divide. One example is here in Utah.
“The Murray school district used federal funds to establish their long term evolution network . This is something that no other district has done. “It’s a great example and something we can learn from in the absence of a more national strategy.”
The authors also urge social workers to get involved through policy advocacy, coalition building and program development around initiatives such as low-cost broadband, low-cost devices and creating digital literacy programs.
” “From a social worker perspective, we must be part of the discussion around how to close the digital divide in particular marginalized groups,” stated Sanders. We can lobby legislators and policymakers to raise awareness about the digital divide and who it affects, as well as the funding required for grassroots initiatives that have a real impact on people’s daily lives .”
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