digitaldividetopper

How Telecommunications Grants are closing the Digital Divide

Cameron Smith
March 30, 2017

The wealth gap is something that’s received increasing media coverage over the last few years. The wealthiest 1% controls a disproportionate amount of money, while the bottom 80% is growing increasingly poorer.

While this separation is certainly cause for concern, it’s driving another, less-addressed inequity – the “digital divide.” This divide transcends global-political boundaries, appearing even in the wealthiest countries, although personal wealth plays a major factor.

In essence, the digital divide refers to the gap between those with consistent access to internet-enabled technology and those without. More specifically, it refers to the separation between those with unlimited access to information and those whose information is limited by their access to technology.

Thankfully, this divide hasn’t gone entirely unaddressed. Grants like the United States Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant are seeking to provide funding for communities which are typically under-equipped with digital technology, and thus information.

This is particularly important for education and healthcare, two essential areas traditionally that lag behind nationally for the underprivileged (both financially and digitally.)

First, it’s important to fully appreciate how the digital divide came to be and how it persists to understand how telecommunications grants are working to close the gap.

What is the Digital Divide?

Defined simply, the digital divide is, “an economic and social inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies (ICT).” It can refer to a division between countries (e.g. much of sub-Saharan Africa has less access to ICTs than the United States), or simply between communities (there’s less access to technology in rural Nebraska than in New York City.)

Because ICTs are generally expensive, the digital divide lies largely along socio-economic divisions. But there’s also a geographical element, as members of rural communities (regardless of wealth) may have slower internet speeds, or less access to latest technology.

As Education and Healthcare systems are more important in lower-income and rural communities, it makes sense that there’s an increasing focus on providing them adequate access to telecommunications technology.

But this isn’t as simple as simply hooking up schools to the internet. ICTs can be prohibitively expensive, especially if they’re to provide effective communication and not just barely-functioning collaboration.

That’s where grants come in.

Grants Are Closing the Gap

Luckily, the digital divide is a problem that’s being addressed. Government branches and other organizations routinely offer funding in the form of grants for communities that need it to access telecommunications infrastructure.

Grants like the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant offered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Rural Development are given specifically to provide ICTs to areas of the United States that have traditionally lagged technology for their education and healthcare systems.

With access to funding from grants like this, communities stand a chance to adequately outfit themselves with the latest ICTs, accessing the information and collaboration that will drive positive change.

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Unfortunately, grant money isn’t exactly handed out to every applicant who asks for it. A serious vetting process takes place, and without proper guidance many deserving communities won’t receive their divide-closing funding.

“Grants are very needs oriented. You have to quantify a need, and then you really have to make a justification for everything you’re asking for,” Cheryl Henshaw, Director of Polycom Grants Assistance Program says. “If you ask for a piece of distance learning equipment or a video bridge, you have to justify in narrative form how that’s going to solve a problem for you.”

This is precisely why telecommunication giants like Polycom offer grant assistance to ensure those who are deserving of grant money have access to it. By ensuring applicants create a compelling, accurate narrative about how their communication strategy will benefit from a grant, Polycom is directly helping close the digital divide within the United States.

“We really help people,” Henshaw explains. “We help them accomplish things, we get them funding when they’ve never been able to get it before. I think through the process we create amazing bonds with our customers.”

Conclusion

The digital divide is a serious problem, one especially profound in rural and remote communities.

It transcends traditional socio-economic barriers, although money often plays a part. As information becomes increasingly commodified, those with access to it receive certain privileges those without it do not.

Information Communication Technologies like video conferencing can close the divide in an effective way. However, to access these ICTs, organizations often have to navigate the tricky waters that are grants, which is why companies like Polycom offer Grant Assistance programs.

With increased access to teleconferencing, communities that are being left behind in the information age will have a new chance to close the dangerous digital divide.