COVID-19 has exposed the breadth of the digital divide, revealing just how necessary it is for the industry, non-profits and government to work together to make access to high-quality, affordable broadband connectivity available throughout the U.S.
Why it’s important: Internet access is no longer a luxury. Expanding digital inclusion can open up new opportunities to improve people’s lives, create jobs, boost economic growth, and drive innovation. “During the COVID crisis, the digital divide has been amplified and exposed a significant challenge that we need to tackle,” said Niklas Heuveldop, President and CEO, Ericsson North America.
But according to Peter Linder, Head of 5G Marketing, Ericsson North America, mobile broadband access in the rural U.S. is scattered. And for underserved communities in cities, cost-effective access remains a key issue.
- Over one third of adults in rural areas do not have access to fixed broadband. Twenty-nine percent do not have smartphones– a low percentage for a wealthier country like the U.S.
Ericsson is working with mobile operators to narrow the digital divide in the U.S., so more Americans gain access to basic broadband services.
But now that the pandemic has shut down in-person classes across the nation, many students – both in rural areas and in cities – are having difficulties shifting to online learning and completing work, creating a homework gap.
- Rural communities had already struggled before the pandemic with accessing critical services, such as primary education, remote health care, and manufacturing. Thirty-seven percent of rural students and 8% of teachers working from home do not have broadband connectivity.
- Underserved students in cities are facing a unique challenge: many had access to internet and laptops at school, but lost that access when schools went virtual.
Twenty-one percent of students in urban areas do not have broadband connectivity. The majority of people living in or near city centers have access to high quality internet, but some cannot afford the service.
”We have seen that Covid-19 has put pressure on everyone. In rural areas, many children could not do their school homework in several cases, as they did not have broadband,” said Bill Chotiner, VP and CTO, Regional Carriers, Ericsson North America.
What Ericsson is doing: In Vermont, for example, Ericsson has teamed up with the Vermont Telephone Company (VTEL) and Rutland City Public Schools, a district where 70% of the students receive free or reduced lunch.
The result: In less than 10 days, Ericsson and VTEL installed 4G/5G wireless radios and antennas in downtown Rutland and offered families wireless modems, giving students immediate access to free internet services.
- As part of its drive to empower a sustainable and connected world, Ericsson is using its expertise, Silicon Valley-based data engineering teams, and new technologies to rollout more mobile broadband networks.
- Chris Daniels, President and CEO of Watch Communications, said, “Our partnership with Ericsson allows Watch Communications to deliver high-quality, reliable broadband for students using eLearning platforms in rural communities in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.”
- When schools in South Bend, Indiana, were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the district began using LTE-connected school buses to provide Wi-Fi for students and the wider community. The buses were connected by routers from Cradlepoint, now part of Ericsson.
- Ericsson contributes to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – with an emphasis on goal nine, which supports industry, innovation and infrastructure – set by theUnited Nations General Assembly.
- As a result, Ericsson’s partnerships have connected nearly 45,000 Alaskans – and thousands more in over 84 rural villages and communities in states like Kentucky and North Carolina.
- Ericsson works with over 50% of the regional carriers that serve the rural U.S.
- More than 115 million subscribers access the internet through Ericsson’s mobile broadband solutions, and that number has been steadily increasing.
Why it’s important, in Ericsson’s words: “If we come together as an industry and partner with policymakers, we can make rapid, material improvements to close the digital divide. Broadband connectivity is the foundation for quality education, healthcare and socioeconomic growth, addressing some of the social injustices further exposed by the pandemic,” said Heuveldop.
The takeaway: Expanding access to mobile broadband brings much-needed connectivity to both urban centers and rural towns, resulting in greater digital inclusion.