Eliminating Indiana’s digital divide

4:00 pm

The digital divide — the gap in online expertise and access between some communities and others — represents a major obstacle to community economic development in Indiana. Roberto Gallardo of the Purdue Center for Regional Development (PCRD) and his team are working to help close that gap.

At 4 p.m., Gallardo teaches a segment of the Digital Ready Business course in Fountain County. This program, funded in part by USDA Rural Development, provides small rural businesses practical ways to make the most of their online presence, from planning a website to showing up in web searches to social media marketing. Creating an effective online presence can help rural businesses compete in the increasingly digital economy.

Stephanie Lober, who is opening a real estate business, is surprised during class: She thought social media had made email marketing obsolete.

“Roberto put a different spin on it,” she says. “He showed me the stats. Forty-eight percent of customers say they benefit from email marketing.”

In addition to providing best online business practices, Gallardo and Purdue Extension are working to address a major issue: how lack of online access, particularly to broadband, presents obstacles to Indiana businesses and households. Gallardo studies and quantifies the access problem to help community leaders address the issue. The numbers are eye-opening. For example, Gallardo found that in the Southern Indiana Development Commission’s five-county service area, 9,000 households with children have no or only one option for internet service. Lack of broadband creates a “homework gap” for kids in school.

Armed with those numbers, Extension and leaders throughout Indiana are working with utilities, internet service providers and government entities to develop ways to bridge the gap.

PCRD/ Extension staff have been trained in the Digital Ready Business curriculum.