Connected Economy Grows While Digital Divide Around Vital Services Remains

Connected Economy Grows While Digital Divide Remains

Digital has reshaped the universe, but connection remains an issue.

Participation in modern society requires access to vital services, including healthcare and education, which are increasingly being provided through digital platforms and methods.

That’s why the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced May 30 the approval of $151.5 million for high-speed internet projects in Mississippi under the American Rescue Plan’s $10 billion Capital Projects Fund (CPF).

The investment in the state’s digital public infrastructure represents 93% of Mississippi’s total allocation under the federal modernization program and highlights the importance of access to reliable, high-speed internet as digitization advances across the contemporary landscape.

“The pandemic upended life as we knew it and exposed the stark inequity in access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet in communities across the country,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo in the agency’s announcement of the funding. “This funding is a key piece of … investments to increase access to high-speed internet for millions of Americans and provide more opportunities to fully participate and compete in the 21st century economy.”

Mississippi’s $151.5 million in federal funding will provide support for broadband infrastructure projects, which the state estimated will connect approximately 47,300 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet.

Accelerating Access to Drive Participation 

The latest PYMNTS research in “ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: The Urban-Rural Health Divide Edition,” revealed that there exists a significant urban-rural divide in digital healthcare — and that gap is growing.

Rural consumers’ participation in digital healthcare activities is down in seven of the nine digital healthcare activities PYMNTS tracked, and rural consumers tend to use digital tools much less than their urban counterparts in every area of their lives.

Greater investment in digital infrastructure that provides rails on which easy-to-use digital products and services can be scaled and distributed to benefit communities is needed to close this growing divide in access to vital services.

According to PYMNTS’ latest study of 2,515 U.S. consumers, “The Digital Platform Promise: What Baby Boomers and Seniors Want From Digital Healthcare Platforms,” a collaboration with Lynx, 20 million baby boomers and seniors are highly interested in using digital tools to manage all their healthcare experiences.

That’s because 57% of baby boomers and seniors said digital tools and platforms will provide them with the most convenient access to healthcare services and information.

To be successful and drive access to today’s connected economy for as many consumers as possible, governments and businesses will likely need to work together to invest, build and maintain a beneficial digital infrastructure layer.

See also: Tomorrow’s Most Important B2B Investment Is Usable Digital Infrastructure

To date, the U.S. Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund has awarded approximately $6.7 billion for broadband, digital technology, and multi-purpose community center projects in 42 states to reach an estimated 1.88 million locations.

Research in PYMNTS’ “12 Months of the ConnectedEconomy™: 33,000 Consumers on Digital’s Role in Their Everyday Lives” report found that digital engagement is steadily increasing among consumers, with Americans using digital devices and apps a full 10% more than they were just a year ago.

And private sector initiatives to help bridge the digital divide are also taking flight, quite literally.

Amazon’s latest push to own every touchpoint of the increasingly hyper-connected consumer journey is a future-fit satellite network designed to blanket the globe’s stratosphere.

Codenamed Project Kuiper, the proposed thermosphere-based infrastructure layer is designed to provide low-latency internet coverage to tens of millions of potential customers, including both individual consumers and enterprise businesses. Customers will access the network via an antenna created by Amazon.

Read also: Global 5G Rollout Hampered by Infrastructure and Adoption Roadblocks

From mobile payments to broadening access to education and healthcare services at scale, commitments to close the widening gap between digital access will require standardization of infrastructure rails as well as privacy and data protections.

Well-functioning connectivity will separately need to overcome many barriers, including institutional and governmental inertia, legacy infrastructure, funding frictions, underdeveloped digital regulations and many more bottlenecks on its way to closing the digital divide.

All these challenges will inform the future of the connected economy, which relies on an invisible layer of technology that lets systems securely communicate and make new connected experiences possible.