The digital divide between those with access to the internet and those without has been an issue for decades, even in developed countries like the United States. In recent years, the global population of those living in ‘internet deserts’ – remote areas without reliable access to the internet – has grown exponentially. This lack of connectivity prevents students from accessing educational resources, small businesses from flourishing, and makes healthcare services more difficult to access.
Plugged In is a program through the Columbia Urban League, a nonprofit organization that promotes financial stability and racial inclusion in the Columbia, South Carolina area. In partnership with Viasat and the Fairfield County School District, Plugged In is bringing connectivity to internet deserts, providing those in underserved communities with internet access and bridging this digital divide.
Impact of internet deserts
Many households in South Carolina sit in internet deserts – places that lack the high-speed internet that many urban areas have easy access to. As a result, residents in internet deserts do not have equitable access to online education resources, telehealth services, remote learning, job training programs, and many more internet-based resources that households with high-speed internet can access. Without access to the internet, communities are isolated and unable to reap the benefits of being connected – both socially and economically. According to the FCC’s 8th Broadband Progress Report, approximately 19 million Americans still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. In underserved areas of the U.S this issue is exacerbated, with nearly one-fourth of the population — approximately 14.5 million people — lacking access to the internet at home.
Internet deserts cause educational disparities between rural and urban areas – students living in underserved communities often don’t have access to online learning resources that would otherwise help them further their education and gain valuable knowledge for future job prospects.
Initiatives like Plugged In are helping bridge this gap by bringing connectivity to remote areas so that everyone has equal opportunity for success, regardless of geographic location or economic status.
*Pictured Above (left to right, top to bottom) Chris Dankberg, Kevin Johnson, Renee Houston-Lang, Jasmine Harvey, Shawn Giguere, Marlon Patterson, Jason McCrary, Megan Collins, Julie Plyler, Derrik Echols, Tory See, Reign Howard, Del Sharpe, Laura Davis, Devoren Wesley, Susan Nelson, Danielle Ellis, Mark Moravits, Margaux Ratcliff
“This partnership is another step in the right direction to provide more opportunities for everyone – especially students and families of South Carolina,” said Tory See, director of social impact at Viasat. “We are excited to work with the Columbia Urban League as well as their national affiliates to bring satellite broadband, tools, training, and resources to this community and create new opportunities for education and digital literacy. We want to be a part of and contribute to a growing community — Viasat satellite internet allows us to help create opportunities by providing access to knowledge and information.”
Launching Plugged In
On June 8, community members and Viasat employees gathered in Winnsboro, South Carolina to kick-off the Plugged In program, which is providing families in the area with three years of Viasat high-speed satellite internet —along with professional-grade computers purchased by Viasat from Compudot, digital-literacy training, and access to valuable online resources that support education, healthcare, career development, and more.
Viasat employees from around the United States, including a large group from Duluth, applied their skills and passion for community impact in numerous ways, including developing and leading trainings on how to maximize satellite internet use and how to setup a new laptop.
Reliability Engineer Margaux Ratcliff from our Duluth office was one of the employees at the event. She gave a presentation teaching the attendees how to get the most out of their internet.
“Plugged In was my first major volunteer experience as a new Viasat employee and it was phenomenal. It was also my first time participating in skills-based volunteering, which I found challenging and a little bit scary, but ultimately more fulfilling,” said Margaux. “One of my favorite parts of the event was our Connectivity Corner where we had residents write down what they were most looking forward to about their new internet. The responses on the wall were full of parent’s ambitions for their children now that they had internet.”
Plugged In participant in front of Connectivity Corner.
As a part of the Connectivity Corner activity, participants were asked what connectivity means to them. Their answers included:
- “A brighter future for my children.”
- “As a mother, to help me apply for jobs and further my education.”
- “Endless possibilities!”
For families in the Fairfield County School District, Plugged In is a game-changer. This increased digital connectivity has vast implications on how people can use the internet to access beneficial opportunities.
Systems Integration Engineer Marlon Patterson also volunteered at the event, leading a session on computer training for the families.
“One of the families participating in the program had been paying $300 a month for internet service so their kids could have the opportunity to do remote learning. Having access to reliable and more affordable internet will play a huge role in improving academic achievement for the students no matter where they live or how they attend school,” said Marlon.
Throughout Marlon’s 13 years at Viasat, he’s had the opportunity to travel the world and provide different types of services to customers while installing antenna systems. Even with all those experiences in mind, he said providing reliable internet service to the Fairfield County residents has been by far the most gratifying experience.
Plugged In is a step toward global connectivity, eliminating the digital divide between rural and urban areas, and allowing everyone an equal opportunity at success regardless of where they live or come from.