In the wake of COVID-19, it’s clear that broadband internet is an essential utility. The pandemic has hit the fast-forward button on many connected activities, from remote school and work to telemedicine, precision agriculture, and streaming entertainment. For the millions of people in the U.S. and the billions worldwide who still lack access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet, the “digital divide” will only get wider without coordinated efforts to bring them online.
At the inaugural Internet Frontiers and Opportunities Workshop, held in Chicago November 15th, participants moved past the “why” of improving broadband equity to the “how.” Many of the event’s speakers emphasized that the solution would not simply come from computer science and engineering, but needed social science, domain expertise, and cooperation with unconnected communities, be they farmers in India, older adults in need of remote health care, or inner city families.
The gathering, hosted by the University of Chicago and the University of California, Santa Barbara, brought together experts from industry, government, and academia for panels and conversations around these goals. The day’s discussion covered everything from how to accurately map who does and doesn’t have broadband access to the relative pros and cons of wired internet, 5G, and satellite to how best to engage populations reluctant to use online resources.