How Mobile Devices and 5G Are Reshaping the Digital Divide

Content From: HIV.govPublished: March 26, 20194 min read


Andrew Hattori, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation
Andrew Hattori, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation

The success of our HIV communications depends on us reaching our audiences with critical information, new research, and meaningful calls-to-action. That’s why understanding the digital divide—especially the ways in which it affects the communities most affected by the HIV epidemic—is important.

The digital divide is definedExit Disclaimer as “the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access.”

Here are three trends we’re watching that have an impact on the digital divide:

1. Mobile Devices Continue to Be Essential

As we reported last year, a study from the Pew Research CenterExit Disclaimer found that 1 in 5 American adults are “smartphone dependent,” meaning their smartphone is their only access to the internet. The study also found this smartphone dependency was especially common among younger adults, people of color, and lower-income Americans.

Another studyExit Disclaimer by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found a “direct link between a lack of internet service and serious illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.” Based on these data, ensuring that website content is written and designed for mobile phones is an essential part of reaching across the digital divide with HIV information.

To hear how our partners are designing for mobile, we reached out to Andrew Hattori, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, about the Foundation’s approach to mobile for the redesign of their sfaf.orgExit Disclaimer (expected to launch early this summer).

“Ensuring that information is clear, easy to find, and fact-based requires building a mobile online experience that lives up to the needs of our audiences. That isn’t happening on now, so we knew we needed to make mobile a priority in our redesign. People looking for information today don’t make the distinction between desktop and mobile. The expectation is that answers to their questions are available no matter how, when, or where they’re browsing. Our job is making it as easy as possible for them to find what they’re looking for.”

2. 5G Networks Could Even the Playing Field

Because many African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to depend on mobile access for information and services, the introduction of Fifth Generation (5G) networks will be a critical component of shrinking the digital divide.

While different companies anticipate different timelines for launching 5G capabilities, the forthcoming networks are expected to bringExit Disclaimer greater speed, increased responsiveness, and the ability to connect more devices to the internet. Depending on what the cost increase is for users, all of these capabilities may help close the digital divide between white Americans and communities of color, including lower-income African-Americans and Hispanics.

A newly released Brookings reportExit Disclaimer found that “5G represents increased economic opportunity through improved access to social services, such as health care, education, transportation, energy, employment, and even public safety for communities of color—and, frankly, any other vulnerable group—that lacks access to a reliable broadband connection.”

3. More Access is Not Always the Answer: Youth May Benefit from Limited Technology

Study data have shownExit Disclaimer “high screen time at a young age, usually in the form of television, correlates with obesity, lack of physical fitness, delays in cognitive development, and long-term effects on psychosocial health and wellbeing.” Many higher-income parents report limiting device timeExit Disclaimer for their children, with “children of upper-income families [spending] half as much time in front of screens as did children of low-income families.”

For HIV communicators, understanding how all these changes affect our target audiences and how we reach them with information and resources is important when planning your communication strategies.