SAN DIEGO–At its meeting Friday, the SANDAG Board of Directors adopted a resolution to support increased broadband access throughout the region to help bridge the digital divide – the gap that exists between those with and without access to information and communications technology such as broadband, computers, and smartphones.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issues caused by the digital divide, limiting people’s ability to work from home or participate in virtual classroom settings.
“Reliable broadband access has become critical for every household in the San Diego region during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said SANDAG Chair and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear. “Closing the digital divide is a must! It will contribute to the improvement of sustainability and mobility for years to come by helping people more access work, school, and human connectivity remotely.”
During the meeting, SANDAG Director of Mobility and Innovation Antoinette Meier presented digital divide in the San Diego region, highlighting disparities in low-income and rural households:
- 23% of households earning less than $50,000 do not have a broadband subscription
- Only 42% of people who live in unincorporated parts of San Diego County have fixed broadband, compared with 97% of people in urban areas
- 20 – 40% of students in many local districts are under-connected or lack home internet access
“SANDAG has a responsibility to listen to the communities we serve, learn from experience, and lead our region toward an inclusive and equitable future,” said SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata at the meeting. “For that reason, we have embarked on a coordinated effort to bridge the digital divide.”
The resolution adopted by the SANDAG Board of Directors will better position the region to take advantage of potential funding opportunities and develop partnerships to help address this issue.
SANDAG is currently conducting research and collecting data to help inform the development of a Regional Digital Equity Strategy and Action Plan, anticipated to be completed later this year. The plan will include technical input from a newly formed digital divide taskforce, consisting of representatives from a variety of local organizations that are actively working for this cause.
Several taskforce members joined Friday’s SANDAG Board of Directors meeting to stress the importance of this issue, and to support the adoption of a resolution.
“The growth of the digital divide has accelerated and been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kirby Brady, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Diego. “Reliable access to broadband is a fundamental underpinning of this successful economy. Without it, our most vulnerable populations are at risk of becoming part of a permanent digital underclass. Effectively cut off from the economic and educational opportunities.”
“I think it’s important that I share our perspective, that the digital divide is just another manifestation of the economic divide and the opportunity divide,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund. “In this time of the pandemic… it exposed not just a digital divide, but a digital cliff. With people falling off into deeper poverty, greater isolation, and presenting us a sense of urgency to do everything possible to deploy high-speed internet infrastructure to all residents.”
Erin Hogeboom, Director of San Diego For Every Child, emphasized that bridging this divide is crucial to the success of distance learning: “It is going to take intentional, equitable, technical, and community-informed policies crafted by brave municipal leadership to move us along the pathway of what our children and our future generations demand us now.”
During Friday’s meeting, the SANDAG Board of Directors also voted to form an ad hoc subcommittee to refine a statement solidifying the agency’s commitment to equity in all its practices. The subcommittee will consider the statement and report back to the SANDAG Board of Directors with a recommendation in March.