According to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum, Iceland ranks first in the world for the percentage of households with computers. Ninety-eight percent of households have access to a computer. Computer access is just one part of Iceland’s commitment to preparing its children to thrive in the information economy. This Arctic state’s national policy supports the creation of digital educational materials, facilitates remote learning, and includes technology goals in elementary and secondary school curriculums. Regarding digital equity, Iceland’s president said during their inauguration speech, “It should be possible for everyone to find suitable opportunities for learning without being held back by their economic limitations.”
In comparison to Iceland, the United States ranks 28th for computing access, below countries including Canada, Qatar, and Estonia. The WEF-Global Information Technology Report found that fifty-nine percent of American households have computers that do not work or run too slowly. This was a problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but when the Pandemic forced students to stay home and attend school using video conferencing, lack of access to a reliable computer became an even more serious challenge.
Access to computers and broadband internet opens the gateway to the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled. For example, the Internet Archive, an American digital library, now stores more than 34 million books and written materials, 7.4 million movies, almost 14 million audio files, and 640 billion web pages. Lack of access to computers or broadband internet essentially slams the gate shut for families who cannot afford these necessities.
The United States made some progress in 2018 by investing six hundred million dollars to extend broadband internet access in rural America. However, this did little to help people living in metropolitan areas. According to the Brookings Institution, “the majority of digitally disconnected households live in metropolitan areas.” Urban areas can suffer from the dual challenges of unavailable or unaffordable broadband service, and a lack of modern working computers from which to access the internet. Despite what we’ve already accomplished, let’s not stop now. Federal, state, and local governments can and should do more to increase access to computers for underserved communities. Let’s take back the lead and put the United States at the top of the list of countries for computing access. Our country’s competitiveness depends on it.
Kaden Tang is a California high school student, and founder of TechEID.com, with a mission to improve computer access for K-12 students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. TechEID seeks to make individual legislators aware of technologies that can be deployed affordably to bring relief to disadvantaged communities. TechEID also conducts research on low-cost hardware and software, and is prototyping a personal computing solution that could be created for under US$ 70 that students can use to browse the Internet, play educational games, write papers and submit homework online. Kaden writes about making computing technology affordable and accessible to students everywhere.