When the cluster of catastrophes began, Skype and Zoom became the most popular platforms overnight. Many have even mentioned “Zoom fatigue” as more conferences, classrooms, and meetings take place online. It seems impossible that a digital divide persists during an era where the entire country was forced to migrate online, but reality paints a different picture. Throughout the country, school buses have been stationed in communities where families could have been forced to choose between internet and food, regardless of whether work or school has migrated online. If everyone agrees that the solution to unemployment, education, and research is to go online, then the time has come to stop thinking of internet access as a privilege and acknowledge its necessity to survival.
Since February, the unemployment number has increased while the opportunities to claim unemployment have decreased. From server issues and high demand, everything about unemployment in Texas has been delayed and undercut by a government uninterested in changing its patterns. If online filing exists in a state with at least 12.8% unemployment, citizens should have no issues accessing those benefits, and private entities should have demonstrated some restraint with rates. There are too many resources in big cities and too much money involved in private entities for there to be a digital divide when all the answers to the problems in this era are found online.
Speaking of private entities, monopolization makes internet service prohibitively expensive for marginalized families. With the already expensive cost of living, Black and brown communities are hit multiple times in their survival techniques due to the occupancy ordinance, anti-homelessness policies, and the digital divide. Internet service providers have no remorse for the fact that people simply do not have the money to increase the coffers of already wealthy people. Thus, it is incumbent upon the government to reign in this lack of control and respect the resources of their voting populace. People should not be forced to choose between logging on to look for jobs and food.
Most importantly, internet service is only available to those who have the proper equipment. While some may laugh at the prospect of using computers without WiFi connections, this is a real possibility for families unable to upgrade their computers and tethering charges from their cellphone providers. Even though school districts have responded by directing school buses to serve as WiFi hotspots in communities where the digital divide is more prevalent, but those buses are only there for a limited amount of time daily, meaning that parents with online jobs are forced to share with their children, leading to slower speeds. Because everything happened simultaneously, people were unable to plan, and residents living alone were unable to plan equipment upgrades in addition to everything else.
The entire cluster of catastrophes in 2020 has demonstrated that there was never a plan to transition into a more equitable society by the dominant narrative. People in Washington, DC knew that a digital divide existed, and did nothing to mitigate that problem for those without means; due to their carelessness, more than 20,000 children have gone missing in the school system. Society cannot continue to enable the digital divide based on money, especially if people with the money are unwilling to share. If all the jobs, education, and entertainment are online–and we need those things to make it through this trying era–then internet should be a public utility.