Co-authored with Dani Schrakamp

As 2020 comes to a close – and we all breathe a sigh of relief at that – a lingering question remains. What will be the full scope of impact that the coronavirus pandemic plays on our lives and our societies?

People everywhere are concerned with the uncertainty of their future, from wellness, job security, and education, to financial stability, personal relationships, and public trust. 

Prior to the onslaught of events this year, many of us had already been discussing the increasing social, economic, and environmental risks associated with deepening inequality. Those who are especially vulnerable are facing even greater risks to their health, stability, housing and well-being.

This pandemic has really shined a light on this inequality, even exacerbating many existing socioeconomic inequities the world over.

Around the globe, women earn less, are less likely to have access to quality health care, have fewer social protections, and represent the bulk of the invisible and unpaid labor that our formal economies and daily lives are built upon. As such, the United Nations notes that the social and economic toll will be paid, disproportionately, by the world’s girls and women.

This is also true for the risk of disrupting any progress that has been made thus far on inclusion. We must continue to consider the diverse experiences of diverse peoples in government decision making, for societal identities, in industry, and the transformation that comes from economic opportunity.

Bridging the digital divide

If people are left out, they’re left out of healthcare, economic opportunity, and education. At Cisco, we believe that the Internet is a basic human right. We know that it’s now more important than ever for us to use our knowledge and innovative technologies to provide Internet access for those without.

In Michigan, more than 50 community locations will be equipped with free Wi-Fi access in order to provide socially distant Internet access for students.

The City of Toronto recently launched Digital Canopy to expand Wi-Fi access in some of Toronto’s most vulnerable communities.

Cisco is partnering with the State of Arizona to install new access points at local libraries, allowing students in high-need communities across the state to conduct distance learning.

From the Americas to Australia, Cisco is partnering to build a more connected future for indigenous communities.

Dallas, Texas is increasing Wi-Fi access in communities with limited online connectivity.

Finding holistic community solutions  

Governments and public sector entities around the world are searching for the solutions to care for those in need, secure their economies, maintain and grow jobs, facilitate access to education, and continue core service delivery.

In the fall, I had the privilege of joining the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) as they wrapped up their series No Place but Home: How Communities are Dealing with COVID-19. In this final episode, we discuss the imperative role of the network and the expanding capacity of technology to repair the social index.

It’s never been more apparent that now is the time to build trustworthy, mass-scale infrastructure that can solve for the needs of today while keeping an eye on the future.

There is a need for a new network model that fits our new reality. The Internet must be viewed as a core utility and a critical public service. Mass-scale network infrastructure enables government resiliency and operational continuity, digital inclusion, flexibility in changing social demographics, and opportunities for economic development. Our communities and countries can build efficient connectivity that can solve the access problem with modern, flexible, and scalable solutions for telehealth, education, job growth, and more. For example, in the United States, Cisco is helping build new opportunities for the rural Internet.

We must remove barriers to access now or face a future where students are unable to acquire the skills needed to join the workforce; individuals are unable to obtain or maintain jobs; seniors and those with disabilities are unable to get required care and support; and small businesses are unable to turn a profit and help build thriving local economies.

Building an inclusive future for all

As Cisco SVP for Corporate Affairs Tae Yoo observed: “An internet that only serves a portion of the world’s population during a crisis only reinforces the disadvantages of the digital divide and constrains our ability to create a more sustainable, inclusive future for everyone.”

The world is changing and will continue to change. No matter what is happening, Cisco is here to help securely connect what’s now and what’s next to power an inclusive future for all.

Comment below. Share your thoughts. Join the conversation. And keep an eye out for the next #GovernmentNow post.


TJ Costello

Global Director for Cities, Communities, & Transportation

Industry Solutions Group