What is technology poverty?

A major issue of our time

Canadians are increasingly familiar with the expression “digital divide,” a term describing the vast difference in computer and internet access between different societal groups. This divide is very much real. It separates us among racial, cultural and socio-economic lines and has a long-term detrimental impact on our overall society.

Results of the digital divide: we call it “technology poverty”

“Technology poverty” is broadly definable as an absence of sufficient technology causing wealth and lifestyle inequalities that lead to detrimental impacts on society. These include physical and mental health issues, lost education opportunities, reduced income-earning abilities, food insecurity, compromised personal safety and more. Specifically, Technology Helps uses this term in the context of computer and internet technology.

In the scope of our work for both non-profits and the communities they serve, the term “technology” itself encapsulates technology, the capacity to effectively use it, technology literacy, data privacy, accountability, audience reach and the effective use of data for organizational decision making.

Evidence of the divide is overwhelming

Only 59 per cent of Canada’s lowest income homes have internet access, compared to 98 per cent of Canada’s highest income households. In rural areas—where the majority of Canada’s Indigenous people are located—only 40.8 per cent have access to broadband speeds sufficient to effectively use computer and online resources—compared to 87 per cent for other Canadians. Those are just a handful of the many statistics illustrating the depth of technology poverty.

Beyond internet access, many lack the technology to use it

In midst of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, over 4.4 million North American households with children are without consistent computer access for online learning. The United Nations Children fund estimates that 463 million children worldwide—about one in three—lack the tools needed for remote learning.

In a recent Calgary-area survey by the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth, only 47 per cent of respondents were fully confident they had sufficient access to tablets and computers. And the gap caused by technology poverty worsens as children grow older. In the United States—whose issues often closely mirror those of Canadians—the National Center for Education Statistics states that eighth-graders without computer or internet access are an average of 27 months behind their peers.

The 2020 pandemic is causing unrecognized problems

The increase in technology needs for students and economically disadvantaged people of all ages is beginning to receive more attention. But there are also less-visible factors worsening pandemic-era technology poverty. Statistics Canada reports that 44 per cent of Canadians have increased their spending on computers, laptops and tablets since the pandemic’s onset, driving e-commerce sales by as much as two-thirds. But much of this is related to social media, streaming entertainment, online gaming and other facets of use.

Increased sales don’t represent an increase in access to what disadvantaged people truly need. For example, a massive increase in sales of web-based devices such as the Chromebook is putting severe pressure on a supply chain that cobbles laptop parts from all over the world. At the same time, many manufacturers are prioritizing the production of expensive, more profitable electronics such as gaming hardware and higher-end computers for at-home employees.

Production of more-necessary devices can’t keep up; a major supplier of laptops for Canadian and American schools predicted it would deliver 500,000 devices in 2020 but says the total is now closer to two million. They estimated North American schools would end the year with a shortage of more than five million devices.

Pandemic-related problems: more than just a lack of technology

More than ever, the fight to end technology poverty demands increased education and internet security awareness. Only 57 per cent of Canadians consider themselves “digitally literate,” speaking to the need for education and assistance, particularly as our reliance grows both during and after the pandemic.

One third of Canadians have experienced a phishing attack, one of the worlds most prevalent examples of cybercrime. Statistics Canada reports that the pandemic spurred new types of targeted attacks related directly to information about COVID-19, potential virus cures, or about the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Forty-two per cent of Canadians experienced a cyber security incident during the pandemic including phishing, malware, fraud and hacked accounts.

Technology poverty doesn’t just affect vulnerable people, it affects the organizations who serve them

Charities and not-for-profits are vital institutions. When technology issues restrict the ability to effectively achieve their missions, it is not just them but entire communities that are held back. Restricted technology budgets, aging equipment, old methods and a lack of knowledge about modern information security can combine to form major obstacles that inhibit organizations and make them vulnerable.

Technology Helps recognizes that technology support is necessary for not-for-profits to thrive and, in turn, help thousands of others thrive. Providing non-profit-specific technology consultation and IT support is one of the two major tactics in our mission.

Read more on how technology poverty affects charities and not-for profits here
Contact our help desk for non-profit-oriented advice and support here

Progress is being made but more is needed

Around the world, leaders are recognizing how technology poverty inhibits sustainable development and are taking steps. The World Health Organization has recognized that digital technologies, many depending on computer and internet technology, will be crucial to advancing global health. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies in its 2020 OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook that “digital technologies are transforming our economies but are also raising new inclusiveness challenges” and “high levels of inequality do not only negatively affect wellbeing and social cohesion, but may also reduce the effectiveness of the economy.” The Canadian federal government’s 2019 budget states that reliable internet access is “no longer a luxury – but a necessity.”

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada reports that during the 2020 pandemic almost two-thirds of people aged 15–34 (63 per cent) and 35–49 (64 per cent) helped someone navigate digital technologies. About 12 per cent of Canadians helped young children under the age of 11 navigate digital technologies, while 23 per cent helped someone over the age of 65.

The problem of technology poverty has been recognized—and both everyday citizens and large governing bodies are gearing up. But in the meantime, countless people are being unfairly denied opportunities that others benefit from—a result of technology poverty. There’s much work still to be done.

Where does Technology Helps come in?

Seeing that technology poverty is widespread and still growing, we’ve identified the need for long-term strategic approaches and broken them into two key areas of focus. We solve real-time, on-the-ground problems for both not-for-profit organizations and the individuals they serve by providing superior, managed IT solutions and internet security. Recognizing that helping one organization can ultimately help thousands of people, we provide ongoing support through consultation, IT sustainability planning and round-the-clock help desk access that fits the unique needs and budgetary constraints typical throughout the non-profit sector.

At the same time, we work tirelessly to inform the world about technology poverty, advocate for policy changes, and form partnerships with leaders who, together, can ultimately eliminate not only the root causes of technology poverty but all forms of poverty and inequality itself. In this modern age, disparate issues such as homelessness, food insecurity and health care access can all be improved when technology poverty is simultaneously addressed. Whether it’s helping other organizations drive civic poverty reduction strategies forward, or simply connecting people and getting laptops into the hands of school-age children, we dedicate time and effort to this every single day.

Learn more about Technology Helps’ history and mission here
Learn more about our managed IT and real-time technology help for non-profits here

Ask us anything

Whatever your need is, we’ll look for a solution. Whether that’s managed IT support for non-profit organizations and charities, helping put needed technology into the hands of vulnerable community members, or simply supplying a little bit of advice, we’re here to help. It’s our mission.