In their January report, The Brookings Institution is arguing that 5G is capable of being the great equitizer for communities of color.
Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks, set to soon deploy, are the next advancement in mobile broadband, replacing 4G LTE technology. Not only faster, 5G is much more capable of handling large amounts of data.
A stronger internet will undoubtedly deepen our connections to it, whether that’s through internet-enabled toasters or more of the social services we depend on being online. Critical to note is that 5G is also going to make low-income populations and communities of color even more reliant on cell phones.
As of now, they already are. Brookings has compiled data that highlights this reality:
- Currently, 95 percent of Americans own a cell phone and 77 percent have smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center.
- For low-income segments of these populations, wireless connectivity is most likely their only online access.
- Twenty-four million Americans lack access to fixed, residential high-speed broadband services, according to 2018 data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
- This includes 13 percent of African-Americans, 11 percent of Hispanics, 35 percent of those lacking a high school degree, 22 percent of rural residents, and 37.2 percent of households that speak limited English.
The upside to cell phone-reliance is that it presents an incredible opportunity for education. With 5G capable of bringing a more robust internet to communities of color, it’s therefore equally capable of closing the opportunity gap.
Brookings notes that “many of these smartphone-dependent populations overlap with those impacted by higher rates of unemployment, disparate educational attainment and limited economic mobility.” It’s not a coincidence, they argue, that “unemployed and under-employed African-Americans may face challenges in meeting current workforce demands due to limited digital skills, training, and access to online job openings.”
A lack of equal access is keeping some vulnerable populations locked out of opportunities. But social and economic mobility is possible when school enrollment, homework assignments, and social services are online and accessible by all.
As 5G rolls out nationwide, internet providers must keep costs low so access grows instead of shrinks. It’s up to education and social service providers to do their part and move all information online. Equally important is making sure that online information is responsive so the families that rely on mobile (statistically speaking that’s lower-income African-Americans and Hispanics) can read and interact with it.
For educators, this means everywhere online where families discover, research, make decisions, apply, and register all needs to be mobile-friendly, or responsive.
When websites scroll, read, and navigate without resizing or panning, they’re responsive, says Medium, while recommending that all school websites get there. Critical to equity concerns, when a school Application website does not function property on mobile because it’s not designed to do so, schools are effectively preventing families who are mobile-dependent from applying.
The same goes for every website associated with enrollment. SchoolFinders, Application & Lottery Management tools, and Registration websites must be mobile-friendly. A huge opportunity to usher in equitable access is here. Let’s not miss it.