As the coronavirus continues to hold us in its grip, our nation is required to social distance and children are expected to go back to school virtually, the Internet, more than ever, has become our bridge to the outside world. It is an economic lifeline to workers who are fortunate enough to do their jobs from home. It connects us to the news of the world. It helps sick patients hoping to chat with a doctor via a video appointment. It provides entertainment and critical education to our young people. But the harsh reality is that broadband isn’t available to everyone. According to the Federal Communications Commission, high-speed internet is unavailable to roughly 25 million Americans and more than 19 million of those Americans live in rural communities. Nearly one in five Americans only have access to the internet through smart phones. Although these numbers have improved in recent years, the gaps remain prevalent, despite the fact that internet service has become as critical as a phone or electricity in our homes.
This inability to build digital infrastructure has intensified the divide between urban and rural areas. This divide has become especially evident as 44 million students across the country have been affected by school closings due to the pandemic. Schools have asked families to switch their children to online learning, but, because of a lack of broadband accessibility, millions of children are being left behind. 18 percent of children in remote rural areas have no home broadband and according to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five students between kindergarten and 12th grade do not have computers. This aspect of the digital divide is referred to as the “homework gap” and is an academic encumbrance for young people who lack access to digital technologies at home. Black teens, as well as those from lower-income households, are especially likely to face these school-related problems as a result.
Who will fix these problems? How fast? When? We are so very fortunate to have one of the world’s foremost experts on the challenges, scope, costs and intricacies of making broadband available to everyone with us today. Our guest on this episode, David McCourt is a “telecom revolutionary” according to The Economist, and his company, Granahan McCourt, is the largest independently owned designer and builder of telecom Public Private Partnerships in Europe and one of the most prominent investors in telecommunications globally. David has recently forged the largest Public Private Partnership in Europe to provide full-fiber to every home, farm and business in Ireland.