Close the Digital Divide to Empower Rural Businesses
Education’s not the only sector affected by the digital divide between the rural and urban population. Businesses, too. Closing this divide will help empower rural business owners. Here’s how.
Among the many buzzwords that are often thrown around in conversation or written about in articles is the "digital divide." It pertains to the gap between those who are able to access the Internet and computers and those who could not. The digital divide rose to prominence in the last few months because of the growing reliance on the Internet to go on with our daily lives. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, people relied on technology to attend classes, hold meetings, conduct businesses, and connect with loved ones.
The digital divide affected the education sector the most, shedding light on the issue of children from low-income households not being able to attend online classes because of the lack of technological equipment. But the business sector is also especially affected by the digital divide these days, especially those who own small businesses in rural areas.
This is why many business owners are beginning to think about moving to urban areas to have more access to technology and compete in the rising world of digital marketing. But this isn't easy. For one, many of them rely on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans to get and keep their houses in rural areas. Instead, what we can do is to empower them and their business by increasing their access to technology. This way, they, too, can build their small businesses' presence online and find success. Here's how.
Increasing Internet Access in Rural Areas
Hasan Minhaj, a comedian, talked about the issue of Internet access on his show, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. Through the episode, "Why Your Internet Sucks," he took a deep dive into this issue. He explained that one of the reasons why internet connection is bad in some areas of the U.S., especially in rural areas, is that Internet service providers simply choose not to upgrade their services there. The perception is that fewer people live in some areas, thus, fewer consumers. This means that there will be a lower return of investment if they upgrade their services.
But this has to change because, in today's digital-driven world, stable access to the Internet is essential to people's lives-especially so for business owners looking to expand their reach online and succeed. This step is more geared towards Internet service providers. But local governments can also act on this issue by finding ways to upgrade the economic landscape in their rural communities and upgrade Internet access.
Educating in Using Digital Technology
Another issue that small businesses in rural areas experience is having limited knowledge and skills in using digital technology. Many of them didn't grow up using computers or attended tech-driven schools. But it's never too late for them to learn. For instance, they can take free online courses. A great example is Google Digital Garage's course, "The Fundamentals of Digital Marketing." After attending classes that sum up to 40 hours, they will have a deeper understanding of using the Internet to expand their businesses.
Not only that, but they can also turn to books, online videos, and even podcasts to help them learn more about the use of technology.
Accessing Affordable Technological Equipment
Today, it's not only popular, but crucial for many of us to own a laptop, smartphone, and a tablet. They're crucial to our jobs. But it's also for convenience. This may be a norm for us. But it's certainly not for many individuals living in rural areas. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only three in ten adults (or about 31 percent) have multiple devices at home. Because of this high number, it's much more crucial for individuals living in rural areas to have access to affordable technological equipment.
Such things would be crucial for their small businesses. This way, they will be able to compete more in the digital marketing landscape right in the comforts of their homes in rural areas.
Attending Nonprofits' Tech Programs
Today, many nonprofit organizations are addressing the digital divide. They are offering classes and opening programs where individuals can learn more about technology and how to use it for their businesses. One of them is NPower. This organization is dedicated to increasing the knowledge and skills in tech in underserved communities across the United States.
Small business owners don't need to migrate to urban communities to increase their Internet access and increase their chances of competing with other businesses online. Instead, what needs to happen is that the digital divide need between the rural and urban populations needs to close. This way, they can stay in their homes in rural areas but still be able to have successful online businesses.
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