It goes without saying that the world is more digitally connected than ever – and that’s in part thanks to COVID-19. The global pandemic was the catalyst for an increased demand in broadband connectivity across the world as entire industries tried to adapt and move their businesses virtually – and consumers followed. However, as Business Insider’s Natasha Dailey recently pointed out, there are 25 million Americans who are still offline due to the lack of network infrastructure and resources in low income and rural communities. This isn’t a new issue by any means, but over the last year we have seen the line between the digital divide become even more stark as these communities are excluded from participating in our growing digital economy. As a result, those 25 million Americans often can’t work or apply for jobs, resume their education, or – as Natasha points out in her recent article – access online portals for vaccine sign-ups during these difficult times. The digital divide is having the biggest impact on our underserved populations.

To remedy this, federal and local governments must work hand-in-hand with network providers to help bring connectivity to impacted communities – whether it be through rolling out more 5G networks or cell towers, bringing private LTE to businesses and schools, or funding innovative solutions such as StarLink. We’ve already seen leading telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T and network infrastructure providers like CommScope rolling out solutions nationwide, bringing much needed relief to some parts of the country. Congress also allocated $3.2 billion in December for an emergency broadband benefit program – providing up to $50 a month to subsidize internet subscriptions for many low-income Americans.

Nevertheless, although there has been some progress when it comes to bridging the digital divide, a lot more work needs to be done to provide broadband connectivity to the estimated 25 million Americans who are still offline. But this year holds promise as President Biden has advocated for his “Plan for Rural America,” which seeks to expand broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American. In addition, telecom companies and network infrastructure providers are continuing to do their part – whether rolling out more 5G networks and cell towers or giving businesses and schools the tools to set up their own private LTE network. We certainly haven’t solved the issue – but hopefully we are on the path to working together to provide equal access to connectivity and the benefits it affords.