Southern California Leaders Hope To Close The Digital Divide

A new Southern California effort aims to address an inequality spotlighted by the coronavirus pandemic — the digital divide.

A new Southern California effort aims to address an inequality spotlighted by the coronavirus pandemic — the digital divide.

Inland entrepreneur Steve PonTell and San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman are bringing together leaders in business, government, technology and other fields to find ways to close the divide.

The divide refers to the gap between people who have access to broadband internet service and those who do not. Former state Assemblyman Lloyd Levine estimates that nearly 25% of Californians either lack the access, devices or skills to connect or experience a combination of all three.

The reasons often depend on where one lives. In rural areas, the top problem is lack of infrastructure. In urban areas, it’s related to income, Levine said.

“It does not help if access is there but you can’t afford services or devices, and vice versa,” said Levine, co-founder of the UC Riverside Center for Broadband Policy and Digital Literacy and president of the Filament Strategies consulting firm in Sacramento.

“The real frustrating part is that this divide has remained relatively flat over the past decade,” he said in a recent interview. “Technology continues to make great advances, but many people are still getting left behind.”

The leaders are still discussing how to tackle the issue and don’t yet have a list of recommendations. But they did hold a recent forum to air out possible approaches.

This problem existed before the pandemic and likely will remain a concern for years to come. However, the issue worsened in 2020 with more people working from home, most schools using distance learning and people going online for other services, such as health-care visits.

“This is a true crisis,” Sunne McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, based in Concord, said during the forum, hosted by the Los Angeles County Business Federation. “It has been exposed as a digital cliff.”

Originally published at Daily Bulletin

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