The digital divide is a division between those who have access to digital devices and broadband and those who don’t. In our current internet economy, the digital divide highlights a new form of social inequality. It is estimated that one-third of all students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) don’t have broadband internet access at home. This disparity is most prevalent in the neighborhoods of South LA, Watts, and Boyle Heights. The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) reported that internet use at home for Latinx children is 83 percent and for Black children it is 81 percent, in urban areas. This is low when compared to Asian American and White children who use the internet 88 percent at home. NTIA Research shows that even when controlling for variables like income and education, Latinx and Black households only report a 72 percent broadband adoption rate compared to 86 percent of White households.
Many advocates for digital equity contend that the digital divide is a result of “cyber redlining” by broadband companies. They argue that internet service providers deny broadband services to certain geographic areas. For instance, an Equity and Justice Alert survey conducted in April by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools found that AT&T is the only provider in the Watts area. The survey also found that many Watts families cannot take advantage of the free internet deals currently being offered because companies do not service their neighborhoods. Despite the lack of infrastructure, LAUSD is committed to addressing the digital divide by providing hot spots and digital devices for all students. However, providing access to devices and broadband is only the first step in ensuring digital equity for all of our children.
According to Michael Gurstein limiting the digital divide to an issue of access is “little more than a marketing campaign for internet service providers.” He argues that simply providing access for students is not enough to ensure digital equity. Digital equity requires the ability to access digital infrastructure as well as “the capacity to use, create, successfully navigate, and understand online content.” California’s Digital High School Grant Program demonstrated that providing under-resourced schools with computer hardware without also providing support for teachers to incorporate technologies into their curricula does not close the digital divide.
Watch the Cyber Redlining CharLA below: