They told him a deadly virus “like whooping cough” that gripped the country and even hit the nearby city of Maicao. But he doubted it was very close to home. “I don’t know if this is true,” said Montiel, 38, who is part of the country’s largest indigenous group, Wayuu.
When the Colombian government issued a national lockdown at the end of April, she and her husband were advised to stay home with their three children, keep their distance from others, wash their hands and wear masks to avoid the virus, which has killed more than 365,000 people worldwide.
But for Montiels, the order to stay home is a type of death sentence itself.
Before locking, Angela occasionally refills the SIM card to use WhatsApp, but hasn’t been able to recharge since locking. Without an internet connection, there is no way to “work remotely”. Angela knits Wayuu’s traditional mochila bags but she cannot sell them on the street under current limits.
For now, his family survived an emergency cash payment from the non-governmental organization Mercy Corps. It is not possible for her children to continue their education from home without access to school material online. As for updates, they are waiting for phone calls from friends or family, who might bring news. Otherwise they are in the dark.
“Seeing that we don’t have TV, internet or anything, we don’t know whether that is still happening or whether it will continue, so obviously we can’t go or move,” Montiel said. “We are desperate.”
Based on UN estimates
, nearly half of the global population – 46% – is still not connected to the internet. For them, lockdown means losing direct access to vital public health information, remote employment opportunities, online learning
, the promise of telemedicine
, digital food delivery
, live religious broadcasts – wedding
, and even funeral
– As well as many other ways we increasingly live our lives online.
Governments around the world have committed to provide universal access by 2020, but the digital divide is still running in and expanding the gap offline as well.
People in poorer areas are less likely to connect, as are women, the elderly and those who live in remote or rural areas. And in many cases, connectivity can be tenuous – the closure of offices, schools or public spaces, such as libraries and cafes, has severed access for many people.
“We always say that there are around 3.5 billion people who are not connected, but we know that there are more now, because quite a lot of people who used to be connected in their workplaces and other public spaces no longer have that access,” Eleanor Sarpong said, deputy director at Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)
“Covid-19 has shown that there is a huge gap, and it is really shocking for some governments. When they ask their employees to go to work from home … many of them can’t.”
Sarpong hopes the crisis will penetrate long-standing barriers to internet access – from lack of political will to regulatory hurdles and data affordability – to make more of the world connected.
A4AI, a World Wide Web Foundation initiative, founded by Tim Berners-Lee, recently shared a series of policy recommendations, urging governments, companies and civil society to take urgent action to bring as many people online as possible during the pandemic. Among their direct recommendations are: remove consumer tax on internet services; cut data costs for public websites; provide affordable data packages; expanding broadband benefits; and launch a free public wifi infrastructure. Some have already taken these steps
“The government needs to see internet access, not as a luxury, but to see it as an enabler that can change their economy … I think that’s a call for them,” Sarpong said.
Digital gender gap
Digital technology has rapidly revolutionized life as we know it. But not everyone gets the same benefits, and many are left behind due to lack of infrastructure, literacy and training.
In the most developed countries in the world, it’s fair 19% of people are online
. Men are 21% more likely than women to be connected – and that the gender gap is only widening.
In India, an aggressive approach to digitalization has moved most of the benefits of online government – from rations to pensions. Even before the pandemic, the poorest country in the country relied on digital, even though half of the population was offline.
The pandemic only magnifies the irony of the situation.
When the crisis hit and 1.3 billion people in India are locked up
, informal nation the economy
ground to stop squeaky. So when the government announced it would send cash transfers directly to vulnerable women, widows, senior citizens and disabled people for three months starting April 1, that was good news. But, stuck at home without a smartphone, many cannot access 500 to 1,000 rupees ($ 6 to $ 13) in assistance.
Lal Bai, a 65-year-old widow living in a remote village in Rajasthan, cannot travel five miles to the nearest town to withdraw government cash, and has no means to access government funds online, so she soon finds herself without food left at home.
Confused, Bai ended up at the door of Ombati Prajapati, who manages a digital service shop in her village. “He’s the only one who will help me.”
Prajapati is among 10,000 “soochnapreneurs,” or digital entrepreneurs, who have been trained and supported by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF)
, an NGO based in New Delhi, in a rural area of the country. In the midst of locking up, they help provide important digital services, including remote banking, which allows people like Bai to withdraw cash using cellular biometric ATMs. And they even help fight misinformation.
“Only because of the internet can I see what is happening and tell others that they must regularly wash their hands with soap, use cleanser, wear masks,” Prajapati said, 27. “I will not be able to help one of these people [if I had not learned how to use the internet]. I can’t even help myself. “
Osama Manzar, a social entrepreneur and founder of DEF, said that their job training like Prajapati has shown how important it is to have digital infrastructure available up to the last mile – especially during disasters.
“Connectivity and access to the internet must be part of human rights. That must be considered, in times of pandemics and disasters, just as you provide access to food or water, there must be a way to provide access to data,” Manzar said.
Problems for rich countries too
The digital divide has long been considered a development problem. But the pandemic highlights that Rich countries also suffer from digital shortages
More than four out of 10 low-income households in America do not have access to broadband services, according to research by Pew. And in the UK, 1.9 million households do not have access to the internet, while tens of millions of others rely on pay-as-you-go services to get online.
“Sometimes people talk about Covid-19 as a great leveler. But actually, the way people experience locking is not at all the same,” said Helen Milner, chief executive Good Things Foundation
, a British charity that works with the government to get more people online.
“Digital exclusion, for many, is only an extension of the social exclusion they face, and poverty is clearly part of it.”
The British Government has recently launched a number of initiatives to help try and overcome digital exceptions. Among the schemes is a new campaign, DevicesDotNow
, which asks businesses to donate devices, sims and mobile hotspots. The Good Things Foundation helps provide tools to those in need, and helps with training. So far, they have distributed nearly 2,000 tablets
Among the recipients was Annette Addison, who lives alone in a flat in Birmingham, central England and uses a wheelchair to get around. Before kuncitara
, he will go to the local community center to access the internet and get help with disability payments. But without a smartphone, he said he felt isolated and in the dark about its beneficial status.
“I didn’t overcome it at all. I was very lonely and depressed when the lockdown first started, but because I had taken a tablet … when I felt lonely, I could talk to my grandchildren or my daughter. I always connected with them, because they always online. “
On May 1, Addison was 60 years old. He celebrates with his grandchildren via video chat on his new iPad – the same iPad that he now uses to check his support portal. And he recently signed up for a dating site. “I feel like a teenager,” he said.
But when the government tries to launch digital services to the most needy, the question remains: Who gets the device and who doesn’t?
Hafsha Shaikh, founder SmartLyte
, the digital skills center that distributes devices to Addison, said it was a question that haunted him.
“The device is not only about direct support for Covid, but it is about opening gates, for parents and families, for aspirations and opportunities,” Shaikh said. There are currently 1,500 on the waiting list.
“The biggest challenge is, who should I choose?”
Swati Gupta and Jack Guy from CNN contributed to this report.