How Internet Connectivity Affects Urban Inequality
If you’re reading this right now or have read an article on ArchDaily, it’s because you were in a place where you could connect to the Internet. Think of a time when you found yourself in a dead zone, where the internet lagged and you couldn’t connect your computer to Wi-Fi to finish an assignment or even without the ability to connect your phone to do a quick Googling. You probably rushed to the nearest coffee shop or somewhere where Wi-Fi was more reliable, just to feel like you’re back online. The internet, in an ideal world, would be equally accessible to everyone, providing access to knowledge and the ability to easily connect with others. But what happens if you don’t have internet? How will your life be affected if you are on the wrong side of the digital divide and live in an area without broadband access?
It seems almost unfathomable to live in an area where you can’t access the internet, but it’s a very serious reality for many people around the world, and a shocking number in the United States. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, people without internet access struggled to work from home, attend virtual school and access necessary government services that impacted their general well-being. In 2020 the FCC reported that more than 20 million Americansincluding 10 million school-aged children who had no access to the Internet, automatically opening a gap where nearly 7% of Americans face setbacks and challenges that will hinder their future economic opportunities.
Low-income communities are the least connected, many of which are considered more rural or tribal regions where fewer jobs and less infrastructure can support the area’s economic activity. For those families living in an area with a median income of $35,000, there is a 50% chance that they will not have an Internet connection. The related gap and the economic gap almost seem to mirror each other, where wealthy regions have extremely high incomes connectivity prices. in 2010, The Gates Foundation has surveyed 77 million people who had no internet access at home and therefore had to rely on public spaces for broadband services. What they found was that a majority of these people visited local libraries to seek academic help, apply online, and even research possible health problems they were experiencing, including looking for ways to find health care providers. So how does this need for the internet translate to the built environment?
As our world becomes more and more digitally connected, especially as the trend of working from home continues to dominate our daily lives, it is important to think about what it means to have access to the internet everywhere, both in terms of the infrastructure needed to transmit signals. and how technology can be accessed and used. Both the public and private sectors have explored ways to address low-income communities that lack access to the Internet, by providing hotspots in public spaces (especially schools) by installing new small cell technology on existing infrastructure, enabling the total cost of setting up new networks and creating new market dilution opportunities for service providers.
New buildings built in both rural areas and densely populated cities without connectivity should think about how to improve the surrounding communities. Developing designs that ensure the future connectivity can be enabled, even if the infrastructure does not currently exist, can help set the framework for improving these areas. Also keeping in mind the users, be it a library that needs enough space for computer labs, schools where kids need space after office hours to do homework if they can’t get online at home, extra seating in coffee shops for people who want to spend the afternoon researching and specifying workplace furniture that accommodates multiple screens to boost productivity are all small steps to bringing Internet access to places where people want to be connected. Our society in the modern age relies on being online, so much so that it affects how successful we can be in our daily lives. While people in lower income and rural communities suffer without the internet, we can take steps to bridge this gap digitally.
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