Larry Irving Tells Us About the COVID-19 Digital Divide: and What We Need To Do To Close It

This is part of the Dialogue on Digital Transformation series, in advance of the 2020 Network Readiness Index.

Larry Irving produced the first empirical study proving the existence of a “Digital Divide”, which sparked global efforts to bridge the divide in Internet access. Irving was also the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration during the Clinton administration. In addition to this, Irving commissioned a Census Bureau survey that, for the first time ever, quantified the number of U.S. populations without Internet access (see Falling Through the Net). Irving was also the Vice President of Global Government Affairs for Hewlett-Packard Company, and is currently the President and CEO of the Irving Group, which provides strategic advice and assistance to ICT companies, foundations and NGOs.


In this interview with Portulans CEO and Co-Founder Carolina Rossini, Larry Irving shares his perspective about the digital divide in 2020, and the ways in which the pandemic threatens to exacerbate gaps in connectivity. Irving underlines that due to the pandemic and related crises, almost one out of three children worldwide are out of school, with a disproportionate impact on those without broadband access, girls, and those living in the Global South. In reference to this news article, Irving emphasizes that “you shouldn’t have to climb a tree, you shouldn’t have to sit on the curb outside a fast food restaurant, to gain access to the Internet. We have to do better by our children.” Irving also explains why being digital at heart is more important than ever before: “Those companies, those countries, those people that are not online, and do not have a digital strategy, will not be able to compete in the years going forward. We have crossed the rubicon: and now we are in a totally digital era.”

Banner: World Press Photo Exhibit.