As we enter a new year, the staff at EveryoneOn has taken some time to reflect on exactly what brought us to work on the issue of the digital divide and what continues to drive us in our work. This post is by Sheila Dugan, our chief marketing officer. Find posts from other staff members here.
In 2013, I was a Code for America fellow working in the city of Oakland. My teammates and I worked on a web application that helped the city manage and respond to public records requests. My 11-month fellowship introduced me to a passionate community of coders, designers, and urban planners committed to using technology to help people better connect and communicate with their governments.
Our government partners were even more enthusiastic. Bogged down by an ever-increasing workload and struggling with budget cuts, government leaders were looking for ways to improve the quality and reach of resident services. Leveraging the power of the Internet is one of the few ways they could accomplish these goals
We’re now seeing the results from this line of thinking. From Los Angeles to Washington, DC, web applications are being built to submit business licenses, clean out gutters, and submit feedback to councilmembers. Not only are more services migrating online, but designers are also creating beautiful user interfaces that make it easier and quicker to complete once difficult and time-consuming tasks. What threatens the universal adoption of these new tools is the persisting digital divide.
You’ve heard the facts before. Close to one in four U.S. households are without Internet access at home. Most of the unconnected households are low-income or minority households. The exclusion of these vulnerable and historically marginalized populations from our connected, digital society is unacceptable.
Without affordable access to the Internet and a working computer at home, these households are forced to wait in line, submit paper applications, and spend hours getting information that could be found by a simple Google search.
A little over half of adults with dial-up Internet or no Internet at home used the web to visit a government website. Only 35 percent of individuals in this same group reported they used the Internet to get information from a government agency on health and/or safety. The number rises to 54 percent for those with home broadband.
My time at Code for America put in sharp focus where the world is right now. Technology is helping us better connect with our government and monitor our leaders now. It’s not relegated to a distant future of spaceships and teleporters.
People need access to high-speed, affordable Internet at home so they can pay their taxes online, request public records, and submit complaints. This is the meaningful use of the Internet that will improve the quality of people’s lives.
That’s why I’m working at EveryoneOn. Each day I’m excited to work at an organization that is devoted to getting Internet access and computers in every U.S. household—regardless of race, age, or income. We’re giving low-income households the tools to fully participate in our digital society.
Sheila Dugan is the chief marketing officer at EveryoneOn. Follow her on Twitter at @SheilaLD.