With the change in administration on January 20, President Biden and his team face a number of pressing issues. Of course, COVID-19 tops the list, however, there are several opportunities and challenges around technology that have a direct impact on small businesses and nonprofits, as well as how quickly the economy will recover from the pandemic.
Whether or not to break up Big Tech with new antitrust policies, how to handle China and the tariffs on tech imports, and what liability companies such as Facebook and Twitter have for content their users post on their platforms are just a few of the tech issues the Biden administration is expected to face. However, we would like to highlight two interconnected topics that may have a great and immediate impact on Sinu customers and the economy — the digital divide and shifts in the workforce.
The pandemic has exposed the need for access to affordable, reliable broadband for remote work, student learning, and telemedicine (to name a few). An estimated 21.3 million people lacked access in 2019, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the divide disproportionately affects people of color. The economic impact of the digital divide was estimated a few years ago by Deloitte, which stated that each day that a person is not connected to the internet, the U.S. loses $2.16 of potential economic activity, or $130 million a day (as reported by VentureBeat). Those figures are probably higher now that the pandemic has forced many more of our transactions online.
Fortunately, there seems to be bipartisan support to close the digital divide. According to CNET, President Biden’s rural economic development strategy includes investing $20 billion in broadband access. His rural policy reads:
“High-speed broadband is essential in the 21st-century economy. At a time when so many jobs and businesses could be located anywhere, high-speed internet access should be a great economic equalizer for rural America, not another economic disadvantage.”
CNET goes on to explain that Republicans have supported investments in broadband, as well. Under the Trump administration, $20.4 billion in funding was reallocated to subsidize broadband infrastructure in underserved areas as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity program.
The pandemic has taught us many businesses can work effectively with remote workers and as we have been preaching Internet connectivity breaks down geographic barriers allowing companies and nonprofits alike to find the best talent from across the country, if not the globe. With so many people currently unemployed, there is a real opportunity to train and retain an entirely new pool of talent IF they have access to high-speed Internet.
Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs at Microsoft, does a great job of summarizing the economic opportunities provided by increased access to broadband in an interview with GeekWire:
“Even as we grapple with the continuing COVID-19 health crisis, we also need to focus on how we can work together to drive an inclusive economic recovery. Ensuring people have access to the skills they need for the jobs that are being created and addressing the broadband gap will both be key to achieving this recovery.”