Communications Networks Are Key to Bridging the Digital Divide

By Paul Pishal, Sales Director, Connected Communities, Black & Veatch

Paul Pishal is the Sales Director in the Telecom Division of Black & Veatch. Paul is responsible for business development, strategic partnerships and client engagements for the expanding markets of fiber and wireless networks for municipal and private broadband. His focus includes Public-Private Partnerships. Paul brings more than two decades of experience managing business development, product marketing and corporate strategy for technology companies in the telecommunications, electronics and business consulting industries.

Aug 24, 2020 | Infrastructure, Technology | 1 comment


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

The current reality of a worldwide pandemic, combined with the ability to communicate worldwide digitally, have almost instantly reshaped the world. It will never be the same again. And while our future may not always be one of masks and social distancing, it is sure to be one of data-centric technology and connected devices.

Advanced communication networks are at the core of our new digital reality. They will continue to alter the way we transact business, share data, conduct business affairs, schedule health appointments and dinner reservations, and build our daily lives. Careers, social encounters, and our mental and physical well-being depend, to a large extent, on our ability to plug in.

That is a sobering thought. But it’s also exciting because the possibilities are so varied. Our digital experiences have become even more vivid, and more important, during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Whole communities have been brought together through online communication. We have “seen” through digital connections what individuals experienced on a ship in Tokyo’s harbor, on balconies in Italian villages, in Seattle nursing homes, and in hospital wards in New York City and New Delhi.

However, not every community is connected. There are still many communities in the U.S. without reliable broadband networks and high-speed internet access, leaving entire communities in digital darkness, and impacting the economy and healthcare and education systems.

The Digital Divide is Real

In the U.S., and in most parts of the world, high-speed internet access is not equally deployed. According to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report, only 65 percent of rural Americans have high-speed access, compared to 97 percent of the urban population. On tribal lands, access is even lower, only around 60 percent. Between 30 and 42 million Americans have no access to wired or fixed wireless broadband.,

The PEW Research Center reports that nearly 30 percent of adults with household incomes below $30,000 do not own a smartphone. Broadband services are unavailable for approximately 44 percent of those Americans, and 46 percent have no computer. These startling inequities mean that whole communities exist in digital darkness.  And as our data-hungry apps and devices require greater speeds, these communities will fall further behind.

Connectivity is the new reality, and the guarantee of a digital future must be available to the many, not the few.

The Economy and our Well-being Depends on Connectivity

There is no question that connectivity is the driving force of local, national, and worldwide economies. A lack of digitalization stunts economic functions from manufacturing to scientific research, from education to entertainment. It impacts generational interaction and exacerbates the disparity between economic classes. Lack of connectivity in America is also a likely contributor to an apparent “brain drain,” prompting an exodus of talented young people from small town America to more connected cities.

Other consequences of the growing digital divide are perhaps even more critical. Farmers and physicians may be worlds apart in their practice, but agriculture and medicine both have an overwhelming need for new technology and infrastructure to meet tomorrow’s needs. Feeding a growing and more diverse population is increasingly dependent on high-speed internet connectivity to manage production and facilitate food delivery. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that building a digital foundation today is the primary way to supply tomorrow’s needs.

National and international response to COVID-19 has accelerated not only the development of online resources, but also underscores the need to embrace connectivity to sustain the economy. The crisis continues to affect the way schools will operate in the fall, how restaurants and retail establishments conduct business and the ways we travel. The entertainment industry and sports events have been transformed. Who would have thought major league sports would be played without cheering crowds?

In a similar way, telehealth capabilities must be expanded to offer additional support to the medical community. A more connected future will help to minimize existing healthcare disparities. Not only can patients be digitally connected to healthcare providers, they can be connected more quickly and efficiently, helping to relieve critical care shortages and offering better treatment in times of crisis. It’s a win for everyone, and a desirable solution to existing needs, underscored by the sometimes-flawed responses evident during the current pandemic.

The new normal will be digital, for better or worse, but to capture the full impact and transformative benefits, it is essential to bridge the digital divide.

How to Bridge the Digital Divide

The growing gig economy and remote employment opportunities continue to point the way toward a need for robust digital services on a global scale. Continuing disparities between “haves” and “have-nots” will have an adverse effect on the local and global economy.  Quality of life, improved health and safety, education, social mobility, civic engagement, and economic opportunity are all enhanced by connectivity.

The necessary communication infrastructure requires commitment, collaboration, and funding. Interestingly, COVID-19 is challenging our economic bottom lines, as well as providing the catalyst for funding.  And our government leaders and business executives are realizing how important it is to accelerate the digital future. At the top of the list is investment in fiber and broadband deployment, but it will not happen overnight. Underserved communities can act now to prepare themselves with a plan and proactively explore new funding opportunities that can ensure the promise of connectivity touches every citizen and community.

Communication Networks are Critical Infrastructure

Communication networks are critical infrastructure, and reliable broadband is vital to advance economic opportunities, health and safety, and education, not to mention social mobility, civic engagement, and quality of life in communities. With so much hinging on reliable high-speed broadband, it’s time to invest in the infrastructure. Earlier this year, the FCC announced the launch of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to help expand rural broadband deployment and bring high-speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses.

Many communities have already started to plan for fiber broadband by conducting a feasibility study to sketch out their approach. As leaders in fiber broadband deployment, Black & Veatch observes that communities that take these three actions early in the process save time and money on the back end:

  1. Review cost assumptions and business plan. Not all feasibility studies are done to the same scope or depth, so it is important to continue the positive forward progress by adding definition and surety to the model and business assumptions.
  2. Conduct detailed mapping of existing fiber assets. While time-intensive, the information will be highly valuable in the formal design process, and will impact the project financials. Some entities include this in their comprehensive engineering contract, while others find it beneficial to get the process started in-house.
  3. Act to resolve program hurdles. The feasibility study will highlight technical, logistical, or regulatory issues that will need to be addressed. Tackle tough issues head on and address long lead-time items early, like service provisioning, billing, operational needs, and operations integration.

As federal funding becomes available, fiber and broadband infrastructure planning is the first step to establish digital building blocks to ensure communities thrive. Where fiber goes, 5G is soon to follow, which means rural communities can innovate alongside their urban counterparts, which benefits us all.

 

For more information, please email PishalP@bv.com or visit www.bv.com/connectedcommunities. Follow Black & Veatch on Twitter @BVSII

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

1 Comment

  1. I am from south Africa, doing my first year in public relations I came a cross digital divide recently in one of my module. I did not realise it was such a serious thing and it is far worse here in Africa as we are developing continent . Hopefully in the near future we will find a solution as mankind because we can not deny it we are now a digital generation and also did realise its bad in more developed countries like America.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Sustainability and Resilience: Not Quite the Perfect Relationship

Sustainability and Resilience: Not Quite the Perfect Relationship

People seem frequently to assume that the terms “sustainability” and “resilience” are synonyms, an impression reinforced by the frequent use of the term “climate resilience”, which seems to enmesh both concepts firmly.  In fact, while they frequently overlap, and indeed with good policy and planning reinforce one another, they are not the same.  This article picks them apart to understand where one ends and the other begins, and where the “sweet spot” lies in achieving mutual reinforcement to the benefit of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Stormwater Management is an Equity Issue

Stormwater Management is an Equity Issue

As extreme weather conditions become the new normal—from floods in Baton Rouge and Venice to wildfires in California, we need to clean and save stormwater for future use while protecting communities from flooding and exposure to contaminated water. Changing how we manage stormwater has the potential to preserve access to water for future generations; prevent unnecessary illnesses, injuries, and damage to communities; and increase investments in green, climate-resilient infrastructure, with a focus on communities where these kinds of investments are most needed.

Public-Private Collaboration – Essential for Disaster Risk Reduction

Public-Private Collaboration – Essential for Disaster Risk Reduction

A few years ago, I worked with some ARISE-US members to carry out a survey of small businesses in post-Katrina New Orleans of disaster risk reduction (DRR) awareness.  One theme stood out to me more than any other.  The businesses that had lived through Katrina and survived well understood the need to be prepared and to have continuity plans.  Those that were new since Katrina all tended to have the view that, to paraphrase, “well, government (city, state, federal…) will take care of things”.

While the experience after Katrina, of all disasters, should be enough to show anyone in the US that there are limits on what government can do, it does raise the question, of what could and should public and private sectors expect of one another?

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This