Those who suffer inequities on other fronts – including people with low incomes, rural communities, women and minorities – tend to be the last to connect. And when they do, they face high costs and poor quality access.
Without affordable, reliable and fast Internet, economic development stalls. People are cut off from access to education, health and government services, quality content in their own languages or simply conversations with family and friends.
As an inverse of the access divide, it is becoming a luxury to disconnect as the Internet wraps itself around every aspect of our lives and public spaces. And for many marginalized communities, privacy was never an option in the first place.
A gap is also widening between those who feel safe online, and those who don’t. Online hate speech and harassment is a serious problem, with women, younger people, LGBTQ+ communities and people of color being impacted most frequently.
This is amplified by persistently low diversity within most tech companies (and open source communities), which has inevitably led to software, algorithms and products that reflect the biases of their creators and fail to consider the needs of marginalized users.
On all these counts, we could say the Internet is becoming less healthy. However, we have also seen a wave of new and meaningful efforts to tackle digital inclusion.
In 2017, sustained public outrage led several platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, to get more serious about tackling online harassment. We saw new independent initiatives to connect the unconnected, bolstered by evidence that low quality access schemes for the poor (like zero rating) are not effective on-ramps to the Internet. And research revealed paths toward creating more inclusive online communities.
Digital inclusion will present new challenges in coming years. Diverse groupings of technology makers, governments and civil society must dig deep for solutions to these complex problems. A healthier Internet built on respect for humanity relies on them.