Apr 8, 2020 - Technology

A digital stimulus for the post-pandemic age

This illustration is of a wifi signal

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new report recommends stimulus spending to help close the digital divide revealed by pandemic social distancing.

Why it matters: Right now many Americans can't easily access remote work or education, which leaves them behind and limits their ability to safely carry out social distancing. Stimulus spending could be diverted to address those gaps, which would also leave us better prepared to respond to the next pandemic.

Context: As painful as the pandemic lockdown has been, without the internet and digital tools like Zoom, it would be almost impossible to carry out any semblance of normal life while stuck at home. But not every American has access to those tools.

  • Over a quarter of rural Americans lack access to broadband with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download.
  • America lags behind other countries on mobile and remote payment systems, which has emerged as an obstacle to rapidly getting stimulus checks to citizens.
  • About 40% of teachers report their students lack a computer at home or the necessary access to do their homework online.

In a new report, the nonprofit Information Technology and Innovation Institute (ITIF) recommends that some of the additional stimulus funding Congress is considering should go toward public policies that can ensure every American can live, work and learn remotely.

  • "This should be a wakeup call in Congress," says Rob Atkinson, president of ITIF. "We have been relying on the private sector to do this but a lot of these problems can only be solved by public-private partnership."

Details: The full report includes more than 25 different stimulus proposals ranging from telemedicine to industrial automation to 3D printing. But the top priorities are providing true universal broadband internet and workable e-government services.

"Broadband access is particularly important for any kind of workable remote education. And for e-government, I'm just angry that people are desperately applying for unemployment and these websites keep crashing."
— Rob Atkinson

The bottom line: Never let a crisis go to waste.

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