The digital divide refers to the gap between those who are able to benefit from the digital age and those who are not. As many schools across the nation pivoted to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports suggest that up to 12 million students have gone underserved.
This disparity has disproportionately affected rural states with black, Latino, and indigenous students being most affected. The causes for this divide include the inability to afford digital devices and lack of access to reliable broadband. While billions in federal spending have helped provide laptops, hotspots, and other supports, analysts say that the majority of these measures will soon expire and more is needed to close the digital divide and keep it closed.
Some analysts project that addressing tech adoption and affordability gaps for students nationwide will cost from $6 to $11 billion in year one, and $4 to $8 billion each year that follows. It has also been suggested that expanding broadband access to expand broadband infrastructure could cost in excess of $80 billion.
Despite these challenges, digital equity advocates and policy makers believe there is a path forward through government policy and public-private partnerships.