Bridging the Digital Divide: Expanding Inclusivity Beyond the Workplace at CAPRE’s Women of Mission Critical Summit

LEESBURG, VA – CAPRE’s inaugural Women of Mission Critical Summit dove into some of the most critical issues facing the data center industry, but one panel sought to examine those same issues beyond our lens. Bridging the Digital Divide: Expanding Inclusivity Beyond the Workplace featured a quartet of leading ladies from the mission critical space talking about how our work could improve the lives of countless people around the world.

Moderator Ilissa Miller, Founder & CEO of iMiller Public Relations and President of NEDAS kicked off the conversation. “Despite advancements in technology and access to information, there are communities and markets that continue to be left behind,” she began. “We saw a lot of devastation fairly recently in the Bahamas, but if you look at what was there before, it was one of the least connected countries in the world. This is literally right next door to the United States.”

In other words, the connectivity disparity around the world is quite large. “In the U.S. alone, we’re about 90% penetrated with regards to internet connectivity, but there are countries in Africa that area barely at 50%,” she explained. “So we’ve got a lot to do with being able to bridge that gap with regards to connectivity.”

Miller then had a question for panelist Tina Gravel, Senior Vice-President of Channels and Alliances at Cyxtera. “There are so many communities you serve in the U.S. with broadband enablement issues – so what is an underserved community with regards to broadband capability and what government initiatives exist to help get these areas access to broadband?” Miller asked.

Tina Gravel, SVP – Global Channels, Cyxtera

To answer, Gravel looked to the audience with some questions. “How many of you used the internet to either find out about this event or sign up for this event?” she asked, before waiting for the vast majority of the room to raise their hands. “Now what if you didn’t have the internet? You wouldn’t even know about this event.”

According to Gravel, we have an issue within this country – within 200 miles of here are people who do not have access to wireless or broadband internet. “So you could say that 95% of the world has mobile. But that mobile capability may be on a plan that only allows so much data. Or it may be in a place that it’s so slow, that transactions are dropped,” she remarked. “This is what we’re dealing with. It’s not so much about a digital divide about broadband anymore – it’s more about inclusion.”

“It’s about how these people do not have access to a secure and fast connection, so that they can do health-related things, so that they can do their homework, so that they can train to get ahead,” she clarified. “This isn’t just bad for them – it’s bad for us. It’s really bad for us. We don’t have enough people in our business to survive all of our retirements. Who will you replace us with, if you don’t start training in middle schools? Tribal areas are one of the worst-served. 30% of tribal areas still don’t have access to a broadband connection. 19 million of us do not have a fixed connection that allows us to do our job. That’s 6% of the United States population.”

Illissa Miller, Founder & CEO, iMiller Public Relations

Miller then made a follow-up point before posing a follow-up question to Gravel. “How many of you in the audience know about WISPS – wireless internet service providers?” she asked. “I actually call them the renegades – they’re kind of like the cowboys of our industries. We rely on mobile networks to build out their cellular networks so that we can get network coverage wherever. Well the WISPS are the kind of folks that are in these communities, going, Well they’re never going to come here, and I’m tired to waiting for them.

“So they’re building up wireless broadband solutions in these local communities so that they can amplify those networks, increase access to education,” she remarked. “Without those WISPs, a lot of those under-served markets would be even more under-served. Tina, do you have any information about these WISP and how they leverage wireless solutions to amplify broadband access?”

“Microsoft has an “airband” program and there are at least a dozen providers – big companies – in the satellite motion to try to get all of us connected in a way that’s fast,” replied Gravel. “Google, of course Elon Musk, Microsoft, Amazon (who is actually late to this game), they see this as a way to get that wireless connectivity in the places that currently don’t have it.”

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