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Participants at our coworking event highlighted that there is a digital divide between those who can access technology and those who can’t. Throughout the pandemic this has been highlighted with everyone forced to work remotely. From the UK to the US it seems to be an issue. While, some governments have built infrastructure that supports digital work in cities and neglected rural areas, the divide crosses the class system and geographical location.
“I’m interested in the possibilities for coworking in particularly in rural areas. And it’s got me thinking a lot about technological challenges for remote rural areas, which is something that some of my colleagues are working on in the context broadly of digital poverty”
“The sense that I’ve got is that setting up rural coworking has a particular set of challenges in terms of identifying who to bring together, finding the space appropriate to bring people together. But there’s an infrastructural problem which often relies on national infrastructure providers, unless there’s a particular set of expertise within that small rural community that can provide the infrastructure for themselves.”
Access to Broadband and WiFi
“We have been spoiled in Iran, we have great internet access pretty much everywhere, even in some of the rural areas. 4G also works really well. It’s very stable unless you really have a large, big amount of data or video conferencing or files that are emailed, etc. that works really well.”
“And then there’s that other project by Elon Musk. We never know what’s going to happen, but he’s spreading out a network of satellites, to give internet access to pretty much the whole world, anywhere. I read an interview where he said he didn’t really know if it was going to be successful or not, but considering his other success, I want to believe that that’s going to happen maybe in five years time.”
Large interest in more rural locations
“We get a lot of people coming, asking us to move away from the main towns in our region and go to smaller rural towns.For us to do that and go purchase or build or rent a premises or whatever, it’s just not feasible or possible for us.”
“So what we say to people is, if you can find local stakeholders and developers and people with an interest in doing something for their community. So you’re talking real kind of stakeholder driven, purpose driven type, initiation of a coworking or a hope project or something in a local town. If you can find something like that and get a space and are willing to give you three, six months rent free and give you a discount thereafter in order to help out their local town or local, and then bring people together.”
“People from Facebook and Google and different people living in these rural towns are happy to collaborate and work on these projects and then maybe get involved on the board and help out and help run them.”
“We had some inquiries pre COVID; post COVID, we’ve got, 500% more inquiries from people who all of a sudden are working remotely and realising they don’t want to go back to the office or drive back into the city, but don’t want to stay working at home, either.”
“We will bring all the expertise and access to a much bigger network to that to make it more appeasable or professional or whatever it is you want to call it. So now even the bigger companies can look at it and say,’ Oh, that’s connected into a local network or a national network.’”
Digital divide based on geographical location
“In California there was a strong feeling about the digital divide and that, we should do more to help the rural infrastructure so that everybody can be connected. Then… things started to shift where the feeling was, well, if you want to live in the country, that’s fine but you know, the infrastructure is going to be in the city. Everybody needs to live in the cities.”
“In the San Francisco Bay area, the energy just kept getting concentrated more and more into the cities. And those of us out here in the country - there are some remote workers out here who need to pay a lot for specifically high bandwidth. I’m essentially using a cable modem and it works well enough, but just not very far down this road, nobody has any access at all. So that’s how it is.”
“But the shift that I’m seeing since COVID is now… that we’ve got to build out the infrastructure out into the countryside, because it seems like possibly a really unhealthy thing in the future for everybody to be all closely packed together.”
If you feel strongly about any of the issues above, or have any first hand experiences or solutions you would like to share with us, please comment below!
This summary is from an event was part of the NGI Forward project Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016. It received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825652 from 2019-2021.