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Internet access is both a human right and a business opportunity



Access to the internet is a basic human right, the United Nations declared in 2016. But, as the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted, it is a right that is still denied to billions of people at a time when connectivity has never been more important.

For professional classes in rich countries with good internet access and the ability to work from home, the crisis has been made infinitely easier thanks to Zoom video calls and Amazon deliveries. It has been a far more precarious existence for those who have manual jobs and children at home with no internet access. Across the world some 1.2bn students have been kept away from school or college.

That digital divide runs between countries. In Europe, 87 per cent of households enjoy internet access, while that figure is only 18 per cent in Africa. But it also runs between regions within countries, with remote rural and rundown urban communities often being cut off from the digital world. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 21m people in the US still lack access to broadband, although some researchers suggest it might be twice that number. Moreover, the divide runs between generations and social classes, disadvantaging the old and the poor.

One of the most effective responses to the coronavirus crisis would be for governments and businesses to help close that digital divide by connecting the unconnected and maximising the opportunities for the digitally enfranchised to work and learn. There are early and encouraging signs that some businesses are ready to play their part.

© Pau Barrena/ Getty

Chuck Robbins, the chairman and chief executive of Cisco, the US technology company, says the crisis has both highlighted the possibilities of remote working and learning and exposed the vulnerabilities of “left behind” communities that do not enjoy internet access. “I think that the opportunity is for companies to invest in education in these communities allowing them to work from home,” he says. The Business Roundtable of US chief executives, of which he is a leading member, will increasingly prioritise efforts to address social and racial inequalities, he adds.

Since 1997, Cisco has spent $3.7bn on its own Networking Academy that has offered digital skills training to 10.9m people in more than 180 countries. That training is available to anyone over the age of 13 but is particularly focused on underserved populations, including prisoners, veterans and people with disabilities. Mr Robbins says that some 3m people will pass through its academy this year. 

Of course, such initiatives are not entirely disinterested. The hope is that the further expansion of the internet will create additional demand for Cisco’s products and help the company hire talented employees, particularly given President Donald Trump’s latest visa crackdown on foreign workers entering the US.

Other business leaders are refocusing on these issues, too. Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, describes broadband as the “electricity of the twenty-first century”. It is vitally important to widen access to the internet and train and reskill people to respond to the alarming rise in crisis-induced unemployment, he says. “The whole Covid experience has galvanised people and put a spotlight on the issue. It is a silver lining in this cloudy year.”

Wiring up the rest of the world and developing online training and education will require close collaboration between the private and the public sectors. But it also needs governments to ensure fair rules of the game and fiercer competition between private sector internet providers to cut the excessively high costs of broadband access in many parts of the world, including the US.

Ngaire Woods, professor of global economic governance at Oxford university, says that purpose-driven corporations can only succeed if they form an effective partnership with government. “It is very difficult to be purposeful when your competitors are much less purposeful and out compete you,” she told a British Academy conference last week.

As this crisis has made clear, internet access is a domestic lifeline, a source of information, education and entertainment and a means of economic, social and political empowerment. It is, as the UN affirms, a fundamental human right that should be available to all.

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NWI Business Ins and Outs: Munster Donut reopens, self-serve craft beer comes to Chesterton, Sip adds third location in Cedar Lake | Northwest Indiana Business Headlines




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A wine bar known as Wine House is coming to a house in downtown Highland.

A sign posted outside said, “think Rainey Street,” a reference to the Rainey Street neighborhood in Austin, Texas. The hipster haven, a lively hub of nightlife, features many sophisticated bars operating out of repurposed houses.

Merrillville-based Commercial In-Sites has brokered deals for Moda Beauty Bar and Down Syndrome Association of Northwest Indiana to come to Oakside Plaza on U.S. 41 in Schererville.

“Moda Beauty Bar is a chic aesthetic boutique specializing in skin care, lashes, brows, permanent make up and sunless tanning. This will be the second location for Moda Beauty Bar in the Region,” Commercial In-Sites said in a news release. “The Down Syndrome Association founded over 30 years ago is a non-profit organization serving children, adults, families and interested persons working to improve the quality of life for those individuals having Down syndrome.”

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Beach Business Bounces Back Over Holiday Weekend, Amid Concern Over New Restrictions – NBC 7 San Diego





That’s how Skyler McManus described business at Hamel’s on the Mission Beach boardwalk Fourth of July weekend.

“It’s actually picked way up,” the business owner
said.  “It almost feels like it was last year.”

McManus and other store and restaurant owners at Mission Beach said they were thankful that the city of San Diego decided not to close beach parking lots after the state requested they do so to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Heavy crowds Saturday were not as large as usual, but
most of the people who parked on the sand appeared to be out-of-towners from
places like Arizona and Nevada. 

They brought their wallets and spent money on food, souvenirs, bicycle, and surfboard rentals.

“The business that we’re getting is a little bit higher
than usual because people are really looking for that recreational option at
the beach,” said Matthew Gardner, who owns Mission Beach Rentals on the south
end of Belmont Park.

Gardner told NBC 7 his business has been better than usual since the middle of June when COVID-19 restrictions were eased and people began leaving the shelter of their homes.

Gardner said he feels sorry for his friends in the
restaurant business because they’re the ones most likely to face new restrictions
now that the numbers of coronavirus cases are rising in San Diego County.

“My heart goes out to them,” Gardner said. “We had a short recovery period and it takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of financial and time commitment to get your businesses back open again and to hire people again. Also, to figure out what’s gonna be happening again, and to have the rug pulled out from under you again, that’s a really difficult thing to manage as a business.”

Restaurants in San Diego County learned shortly before the long holiday weekend that the county health department had imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on top of social distancing requirements that allow them to only seat half as many customers.

“We did all right yesterday, but not what we usually do,” said Mike Soltan, who owns Kojak’s Greek and American Restaurant.  “We had to close the door by 10 and there were like 1,000 people outside so we (had to) lock them out.”

On a normal Fourth of July, Soltan says his restaurant continues serving gyros and burgers to hungry crowds until 2 a.m.

Soltan hopes any new restrictions won’t impact his
business.  He said it would be crippling if beaches or beach parking lots
were closed.

“We don’t need another shutdown, I mean we’re already hurting the way it is, so hopefully, you know, things won’t be as bad,” he said.

If new restrictions are imposed, they would go into effect by Tuesday, July 7, and last a minimum of three weeks.

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