We won’t be the same when we return to the ‘new reality’ after the confinement caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as many people and companies have tasted the benefits of working from home, video call meetings, and even distance learning courses. However, 3 out of 10 Mexicans don’t have these advantages, according to INEGI data from 2019.
People need to develop basic digital skills for the entire population to benefit from using the internet, as well as deploying telecommunications networks in small towns.
What are these basic digital skills and what to they consist of? So that technological development doesn’t leave us behind, the first basic digital skill is physically handling a device to interact with the internet, such as a computer, starting with keyboards and touch screens, software (e.g. using a word processor and setting up a password for a smartphone), and basic internet operations such as setting up an email account, using search engines, and creating online profiles, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
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“There’s a digital divide in Mexico and Latin America. Marginalization in the use of the internet is approximately 30%. In the specific case of Mexico, 5% of people live in areas where there is no network coverage and 7% where there is no 3G or 4G mobile broadband coverage. This phenomenon affects people on low incomes, so closing the digital divide undoubtedly benefits the most vulnerable populations,” says Irma Wilde, Associate Vice President for Digital and Customer Experience at AT&T.
In an interview with Tec Review, Wilde emphasizes that one of the ways of bringing digital skills to populations who lack them in this digital divide is by providing connectivity and basic digital literacy.
Step by step
Although the population using the the internet has grown by 29% in the past four years, only 70% of the group who are six years old or more that can use this technological tool interact with the network, according to data from the 2019 National Survey on the Availability and Use of Information Technologies at Home (Encuesta Nacional sobre Disponibilidad y Uso de Tecnologías de la Información en los Hogares, ENDUTIH).
The remaining 30% of the population is what concerns specialists, as this is the hardest segment to reach because people live in areas that are marginalized or hard to access. Ricardo Anaya, Qualcomm product manager, says that although it will take longer for them to get connectivity, it will be the most recent technology when it arrives, fourth and fifth generation (5G).
So, it’s not enough to reach marginalized areas with fixed or mobile telecommunications coverage. People also need to know how to exploit the digital resources available to them. “They need to be able to search, organize, and plan. They also need to select and prioritize information; collaborate with other people remotely; create content and everything involved in editing it, from text to video,” says Jorge Bravo, Director General at Digital Policy & Law, on the development of more digital skills.
Last year, the government created the company CFE Telecomunicaciones e Internet para Todos (CFE Telecommunications and Internet for Everyone) in order to close the digital divide. Its goal is to bring both services to different marginalized communities. However, while the state-owned company meets its objectives, companies such as Telcel, AT&T, and Telefónica are still racing to update technologies and services.
“There’s good news. We’re working to get more people connected to the internet to benefit from technology and improve their lives with it. This emergency (the COVID-19 quarantine) that we’re experiencing has shown the need to develop basic digital skills,” says Wilde.
In order to provide digital literacy to the elderly in a family setting, this quarantine could be the time to share knowledge with them. “Young people can intuitively teach the elderly digital literacy because they know applications, platforms, and social media and they use them every day. Information and communication technologies also break down academic hierarchies. A young person can teach or be a facilitator for the elderly or digitally illiterate,” adds Bravo.
The quarantine caused by the COVID-19 epidemic is showing us that where there is easy access to technology, several people and companies can migrate to digital resources to carry on working. There’s still a lot of work to do for those who don’t have this opportunity.
“Digitalization can encourage the heads of families: having navigators who can help their children to do their homework, using mobile banking, and using health applications. Closing this digital divide (which is a reality that is more evident than before) will help connectivity to encourage development,” says Wilde.