Is it enough? The data we consume in our homes and businesses continues to grow at a blistering pace. Internet of Things (IoT) device connections are also increasing exponentially, with the average number of devices per connected home more than doubling just over the past couple of years. To address all of this growth, service providers are continuously expanding their fiber to the premise (FTTP) and hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) footprint. Mobile network operators have introduced newer services, like 5G Fixed Wireless Access, to expand their broadband footprint. Satcom providers are launching new satellites to either expand capacity or increase speeds with low-Earth-orbit constellations. And all communication service providers (CSPs) are trying to reach rural, unserved, and underserved communities as fast as they can. Governments all across the world have stepped up and are providing billions in funding to both subsidize the broadband buildout and offer credits to would-be consumers toward their broadband bill and electronic device purchases, like laptops, desktops, and tablets. Because like Barack Obama once said, “The internet is not a luxury; it is a necessity.”
But when it comes to addressing the digital divide, is this funding enough? There’s no question it’s an incredible start and a solid foundation to build on, but serving those in need requires an ecosystem of support for everything from connectivity to digital literacy. And here’s the biggest problem: the rate of technological innovation is easily outpacing the rate of broadband deployment, meaning the digital divide is widening by the day, leaving those in need further and further behind. It doesn’t make sense to curb innovation, so the only option is to inject speed into the processes—processes for CSPs applying for grants and governments issuing those grants to fund broadband buildouts, for surveying and construction to reach more homes and businesses, for signing on new customers, for activating new devices and services, and for learning and continuous education. So how do we do that? We can start by increasing the rate of broadband deployment to reach people in need faster. But first, we need a conductor!
Long-running projects, like FTTP builds or HFC expansion, and other similar projects, like network densification for 5G, are examples of complex workflows. They involve many different teams from survey through construction, manual process management, inefficient task assignment, low visibility for oversight, and legacy software built years ago that lacks advanced features and is too often held together with things like duct tape and baling wire. As with many other complex problems, technology, and software in particular, is often a key area of focus. Like an orchestra conductor ensures strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion all play in harmony to produce masterpieces that delight the ear, a CSP needs the right orchestration software to minimize OpEx and accelerate the ROI on CapEx:
When developing an application to provide all of these outcomes, speed is critical, but so are openness, extensibility, and malleability. Including a low-code development platform as part of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) process instantly unlocks all of these capabilities for you.
The digital divide is often misrepresented pictorially as a canyon with a bridge connecting one side , with a computer waiting on the other side symbolizing high-speed internet and access to a number of critical capabilities and services, like remote work, distance learning, and telehealth. But here’s perhaps a more accurate representation, from the perspective of those looking to not just cross the divide but to continuously accelerate progress, taking shortcuts whenever possible:
Sir Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge itself is power.” But most of the knowledge we attain these days comes from the internet, which, in this context, presents a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. The pace of learning and therefore progress is directly proportional to the speed at which broadband, and subsequently information, is made available. CSPs carry an enormous responsibility to deliver broadband for all, and for years they were expected to deliver it all on their own. Even when it did not make financial sense for their businesses to deliver to remote locations with only a small number of residents. Fiber builds in particular are massive construction projects that consume a significant amount of money, time, and human resources across many teams. Federal funding helps, sure—but speed is king, and the faster CSPs can build, the quicker those in need can get the information to progress.
During the height of the pandemic, students were asked to not just complete digital homework assignments, but to effectively “work from home.” Seemingly overnight, bandwidth requirements for schoolwork increased by an order of magnitude, meaning performance in school was directly tied to the ability to access a broadband connection. Where connectivity was already established, many CSPs were able to handle this on top of other needs, like professionals needing to work from home and patients needing to see telehealth providers. For some people, the connectivity at home was just not there, so they had to find places where they could pick up a Wi-Fi signal, like a coffee shop or school parking lot. Not everyone had a device on which to complete their assignments, so some completed them on a mobile phone. And for many, affordability of a broadband connection was another barrier. This is of course a global challenge, but even just in the US alone, there are over 13.5 million households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP). This is out of an estimated 48.6 million households eligible for ACP. That leaves a whopping 72% of households that are eligible for help but have not signed up, pointing to one of the biggest challenges the industry faces: awareness. The only way to accelerate awareness for those not currently using the Internet as their main source for information is through more physical touchpoints, networking, and ecosystem expansion. Here’s one idea to help raise awareness of programs that support digital literacy:
These days, when you sign up for mobile or broadband service with your favorite communication service provider, there are options to select from service plans with perks, including a free streaming service, storage, credit monitoring, or spam detection. But what if those same bundles included perks like free educational content and course materials to help launch a career? Closing the digital divide is no longer the sole responsibility of just one or two entities, like government organizations and CSPs, but instead, it’s on all of us. Learn more.
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