In light of school shutdowns and the transfer to virtual learning, the necessity for wireless internet and suitable learning devices has never been more dire. While US school systems struggle to accommodate the influx of technology requests and internet connectivity issues, countries such as Korea are on track to have universally free wifi.
In the cultural and economic hub of Korea, Seoul, city officials announced a plan to have free wifi and internet access throughout the entire city by 2022. As of recent estimates, 31% of Seoul receives free Wifi access, a percentage that officials hope to increase in the coming years. Upwards of 85 million dollars are being spent on this effort, aiming to offer universal wifi services rather than relying on a telecommunication network.
Seoul is the capital of Korea, including around 9 million inhabitants, around half of Korea’s net population. This city’s recent emphasis on free wireless internet begs the question as to when the US will adopt a similar plan. Considering the size and magnitude of Seoul’s initiative, it seems feasible for the US to follow their footsteps. As the pandemic, and in turn the emphasis on digital learning, heightens, it’s imperative for the US to follow Seoul’s example.
However, Seoul doesn’t plan to extend their internet connectivity to individual households, schools, factories, and warehouses. This could prevent city income from private wifi companies and risk the Korean economy. While their current plans do not include homes and schools, Seoul’s step to providing internet access to all is an admirable one. It opens up avenues for disadvantaged children to use devices in public spaces, where wifi is provided free of charge. Ridding public spaces of paid internet plans is a significant step towards bridging the digital divide, allowing formerly unable children to have a free and reliable internet connection, possibly helping more children attend schools during the global pandemic. Initiatives such as this one beg the question as to why major US cities haven’t adopted the same priorities. Now that wifi has become a prerequisite to learning, it becomes more and more imperative for this access to be extended to all in order to prevent a cyclical educational gap amongst disadvantaged groups.