The Digital Divide is a Human Rights Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic shed a glaring light on the important role that technology and access to high-speed internet play our lives. You would not be able to read this story without an internet connection and a device to read it on. How would you communicate with loved ones, do your homework or pay your bills without broadband?

Cynthia K. Sanders, associate professor and online program director in the College of Social Work, is the lead author of an article published in the Journal of Human Rights and Social Work that argues access to high-speed internet, or broadband, is a human rights and social justice issue. Lack of access disproportionately impacts low-income, People of Color, seniors, Native Americans and rural residents. Sanders joined the University of Utah in July 2021.

“Much of my work is around financial, social or political inclusion,” said Sanders. “The digital divide certainly represents a lack of social inclusion because there are so many things associated with access to broadband in terms of how we think about our daily lives and opportunities, especially highlighted by the pandemic. It creates a clear social exclusion situation.”

At least 20 million Americans do not have access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Some estimates are as high as 162 million, said Sanders. While there are federal funds allocated toward addressing access to broadband internet, Sanders and her co-author, Edward Scanlon from the University of Kansas, argue the digital divide must be viewed as more than a policy or infrastructure issue.

“When we know that the people who don’t have it are already disadvantaged in many ways, it should also be viewed as a human rights and social justice issue,” said Sanders. “And it’s also about more than just whether broadband is available in certain areas. Even if it is available, not everyone can afford it or devices available to access it. If they do have the devices or can pay for it, they may not have the digital literacy skillset to effectively use technology and broadband for many of the opportunities it provides like applying for jobs, furthering one’s education, accessing health care or medical records and staying in touch with friends and family.”

In order to reduce the digital divide, Sanders said there are community-based, grassroots initiatives that can serve as excellent models—including one here in Utah.

“The Murray School District used some federal funds to create their own long-term evolution network (LTE) and that’s something no other district in the nation has done,” said Sanders. “It’s a great example and something we can learn from in the absence of a more national strategy.”

The authors also urge social workers to get involved through policy advocacy, coalition building and program development around initiatives such as low-cost broadband, low-cost devices and creating digital literacy programs.

“From a social work perspective, we need to be part of this discussion around ways to help close the digital divide for particularly marginalized groups,” said Sanders. “We can be involved in lobbying and working with legislators and policymakers to educate about the digital divide, who it impacts and the funding needed for some of these grassroots initiatives that can truly impact peoples’ daily lives.”

Turn Your Android Mobile Phone into a Wifi Hotspot for Free

Jail Break or root, neither of these terms are appealing even when discussing how to turn your phone into a wifi enabled mobile hotspot without accruing a monthly charge by your service provider. Have you ever created the best presentation using the hottest technology out there only to find out the office or classroom where you are giving  the presentation does not have internet access? What is a tech guru to do without internet access?

Well, there are a few solutions depending upon which mobile operating system that you are using. By far, Android users have the absolute best options for the wifi economically challenged.

Iphone users, you are out of luck with this tip because Apple blocks the hottest mobile app download FoxFi that will turn your phone into a mobile hotspot without any root or  jailbreak  which will instantly void the warranty of your phone.

AT&T and Sprint have disabled their android users’ ability to download FoxFi from Google play using their mobile internet access. However, if you navigate to Foxfi from a desktop computer, you can use your camera to scan the QR code located on the Foxfi webpage.

By scanning the QR code,  your phone will instantly install the Foxi mobile app without needing to download through your mobile internet access. Now, you have an instant mobile hotspot that can operate up to five devices without a monthly charge. No spike in your internet service because you could be looking a movie on Netflix.

Iphone users, your best option other than adding a monthly mobile hotspot charge, is buying an av adapter for your Apple product which sells for approximately $40.00 at the Apple store. With this adapter, you can connect a regular HDMI cable to the HDMI port on any up to date LCD or Plasma TV.  HDMI cables can be purchased for 8 to 20 dollars at any electronics store or at Walmart. This option will only help you provided your school or agency has actually sprung for updated electronic equipment.

Otherwise, you may be better off printing out your powerpoint presentation and go old school with a handout. How did this tip work out for you?

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