How can you keep in touch with loved ones when not everyone has the right tools or understanding to get together on a video call? How easy is everyone finding it to buy things or access services online? During the lockdown, the digital divide is bringing social divides to light too.
If, during the lockdown, certain social inequalities are coming into focus – access to housing, exposure to the virus etc – others are less obvious but just as harmful. This is the case with digital illiteracy. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, more than half of the world’s population still can’t access the internet, either because they don't have a connection or because they don’t know how to use it. This leaves them even more socially distanced and isolated during the lockdown.
The lockdown is highlighting inequalities
For the 13 million French people who for whatever reason have no internet access, lockdown is making life harder. Starting with the declaration form you need to leave the house to buy essentials, go to work or see a doctor. How can you download it when you don’t have a computer or are even less likely to have a printer? Or to make matters worse, if you don’t know how to use an internet browser?
All over the world, public services are going online, and this is accelerating with the lockdown. In normal circumstances, people with little or no access to technology can count on support networks such as neighbours, friends or family. But in light of social distancing measures it is hard to ask a third party to print a document or pop round to a neighbour’s house to fill out an online form. This is a major problem for older generations, who are becoming more and more isolated from the outside world. In low-income families, difficulty accessing the internet is also a disadvantage when it comes to home schooling and access to education.
Initiatives promoting inclusion
Several initiatives are being set up in France to help combat the situation. For example, MedNum, a government service where advisors can help people with no access to technology over the phone. The Partage ton Wifi (Share your WiFi) campaign launched by non-profits in disadvantaged neighbourhoods enables people to share their connection with people who need it. Emmaüs Connect, an association dedicated to helping the most vulnerable communities, has set up numerous programmes and fundraisers to provide computer equipment and connectivity to get them online.
In the USA, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai announced the company would provide 4,000 laptops to students in California. In Kenya, a network of high-altitude, tennis-court sized balloons 20 km above sea level has been deployed to provide digital access.
Other examples of solutions during the lockdown across all our territories
Our network “Telco Heroes” have mobilised to ensure service continuity, through redoubled hygiene and prevention measures.
We are offering additional GB of mobile data to our customers (for example in Spain and France). We are also providing digital tablets to promote access to educational content, such as in Romania, and for hospitals and retirement homes, for example in Begium and France. Low-cost services are also available, such as the "Coup de Pouce" offer in France and special offer for teachers and their students in Poland.