Today’s infrastructure needs: It’s time to face our digital connectiveness
For the past four years there seem to be a recurring theme not unlike the famous movie Groundhog Day, where the past keeps repeating itself. So, it’s Infrastructure Day/Week again where the press is summoned to learn of “infrastructure week.” Now under a still relatively new administration, we find ourselves once again trying to understand another infrastructure initiative. As in the past, everyone recognizes the need to address infrastructure in America, and most public opinion polls suggest much support—and across party lines. But as in the past the details and a hefty price tag keep getting in the way. Some view infrastructure in a more contained and traditional sense; rebuilding roads, bridges and schools. And to be fair, no one disputes such needs. There are also those who view infrastructure in a more future-facing manner that also includes digital infrastructure.
Certainly, the pandemic has laid bare the fragility of our ability to connect during turbulent times and underscored the need for attention to digital infrastructure. Until recently, telework was often regarded with high degrees of skepticism and perhaps jealousy and mistrust. There was a fear that some would take advantage from working remotely and not perform, other stated that it would be unfair to have some work remotely and other not. The pandemic clearly proved the naysayers wrong, and the “great Pivot of 2020” proved that it worked exceedingly well. Mangers I know have stated that just because someone is in an office doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity.
Telework was created in 2001 with Congressional interest in expanding the use of telework in the Executive branch and began in earnest with the passage of the Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2001. It was never designed to be used to reward employees or make their jobs easier—no, it was really about government resiliency and would help keep the government running in case of an emergency—including a pandemic.
For telework to work one must have access to reliable and available broadband. Government employees require the right equipment, such as headsets, modems/routers, laptops, Wi-Fi, let alone broadband. Yes, the pandemic truly accelerated the thinking of many who sought to keep both economy and the business of government alive and relevant. Then there was the public who found schools and government offices shuttered and the only way to communicate was through digital means. The pandemic exposed a not-so-hidden digital gap where as many as 40+ million residents were without reliable broadband. Schools had to scramble and find suitable equipment for students and teachers and at the same time find a way to connect with them through broadband.
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