Work from home? Pandemic reveals digital divide
By Dane Avanzi
The future is digital. There is no doubt about that. The Covid-19 pandemic is seen by many experts as the dividing line between a world we knew and another that is yet to come, much more connected, independent and technological. But in a country so marked by inequality, such as Brazil, this discourse is not valid for everyone: students, workers and entire families without access to the Internet are on the margins of the so-called digital transformation.
According to PNAD Continuous ICT 2018, almost 15 thousand Brazilian households do not use the internet. In urban areas, the percentage of homes without access to networks due to lack of interest, high cost of the service package or lack of digital knowledge reaches 91.5%. Another important fact is that, in rural areas, the non-availability of the Internet access service in the area of ??residence represented 20.8%. Recognizing the diverse Brazilian realities, how is it possible to democratize internet access at this very necessary moment?
We have many challenges in relation to the digitally excluded. The difficulties faced by them range from work and studies, but even to obtaining reliable information on how to prevent contamination of the virus. The helplessness comes from much earlier: generally, these people live in precarious hygiene conditions, houses without basic sanitation and essential items, considered basic for many people, such as a shower and a bar of soap. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, we know that this population of vulnerable people tends to increase and it is for the most needy that the authorities need to look back.
The Federal Government has been the protagonist of important issues in the area of ??telecommunications, such as a provisional measure that established the extension of some taxes related to companies in the sector and another that created credit lines for micro and small companies. This will allow many internet companies to have access to financing that can be used for innovations, for example. With more cash on hand and without threats to their business, these companies can promote social responsibility actions in favor of the democratization of the internet, obtaining value gain for the brand and, mainly, collaborating for a less unequal country.
Another important point is that, with the increase in demand, the service of operators, which has long been below consumer expectations, has come to be even more criticized. In addition, some factors should impact the price of internet packages, such as the principle of neutrality and the rise in the dollar. I have always been against predatory competition and the sale of packages with a very low ticket, because they fail to deliver a quality service to the consumer, greatly increasing complaints. What could contain this increase in prices would be a public policy, on the part of the Federal Government, aiming to reduce the digital divide – something that we have never seen until today.
Telebrás, for example, has this as its main goal, but it needs to be treated as a public policy, integrating local governments and civil society, so that it can benefit the most needy populations. The organization has a functioning orbiting satellite and fiber optic networks connecting the capitals. What needs to be done is an investment to take this high capacity network to communities so that people with less purchasing power can have access to the internet, either through a subsidized or free cost. Partnerships with NGOs and neighborhood organizations can be a good way to have access to these people, in the midst of the delicate situation that we live in.
Before, there was talk of internet in schools. Today, we have to think about internet in homes, in view of the need for social isolation that is necessary and can last all year. Time requires practical actions and leadership with a vision to promote collaborative spaces. And I believe that this is the keyword: collaboration. We can only reduce or eliminate the digital divide if everyone contributes: Government, business and the community.