Tech Equity: an Issue of Economics

I’d like to thank Kennedy and Ummey for challenging Graeme and I during this weeks debate. They both came prepared by offering an excellent introductory video and sound counter-arguments. I would also like to thank the class for a good discussion regarding technology and its impact on social equity.

Technological advances have revolutionized the way we work and play. The internet has globalized our world in ways that never seemed possible. Access to information has never been so fast, abundant, or accessible, which has shifted the educational paradigm. Today, students and educators experience learning and teaching through screens, apps, and web searches. However, in considering the question of equity, technology has significantly widened the gap between the haves and the have nots. Furthermore, our heavy reliance upon technology has adversely impacted those who lack proper infrastructure like access to devices and reliable internet connections.

Early Computing

Retro 1990s style beige desktop PC computer and monitor screen and keyboard. 3D illustration.When personal computers entered the consumer marketplace in the late 1970s, they were marketed towards non-technical users and were seen as a giant leap away from the large-scale processors used predominantly in universities. A 2019 CBC article reflects on the boom that occurred at the start of the 1980s. While the goal “of a computer in every house” was noble, an oversaturated market led to a sharp decline in tech companies by the middle of the decade. With personal computing quickly becoming a staple of home and business, many economists signaled warnings that a digitized society meant drastic consequences in an already unstable economy.

Cost has always played a significant role in the accessibility of technology. According to IBM, their first PC retailed for around $1600 for a base model at a time when the average (American) household income hovered around $21000 annum.  The inflation problem and interest rate hikes of the 1980s (which somewhat mirror our current situation) caused families to reevaluate their needs and many felt that a PC was a luxury that they could not afford. However, today, as society is more deeply engrained in a tech-centric world, not having a device spells near disaster.

Closeup financial chart with uptrend line candlestick graph in stock market on blue color monitor backgroundThe rising cost of living expenses and the frequent turnover of devices make it difficult for many Canadian families to provide adequate technology at home. This is especially problematic for traditionally under-represented Canadians, such as Indigenous peoples, members of the 2SLGTBQ+ community, racialized people, recent immigrants, and people with disabilities who are at greater risk for not accessing technology. For instance, lack of adequate technology, faulty connections, and underfunded broadband projects contributed to nearly 65% percent of households on First Nations reserves not having access to the universal service objective of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload internet speeds in 2019, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. 

The Economics of (In)Equality

Alyvia Bruce’s Harvard Political Review article, “Bridging the Technological Divide in Education” addresses the ever-present issue related to tech-equity: economics. At several junctures this past week an argument was raised that technology is a game changer for equality because it provides users an equitable chance to attain knowledge, communicate, and process work. However, if a student does not have access to said technology, how is he or she expected to compete against those that do have access? Bruce argues that market forces of the 1980s created an unprecedented economic divide because wealth disparity suddenly correlated to sharp increases in executive salaries. By the early 2000s executives steadily outpaced workers in earnings 10:1. As companies strive to remain profitable, low-skill workers become disposable as their jobs become automated. As more jobs become automated, workers either remain unemployed or take jobs at lower salaries. In essence, this becomes a perfect storm for inequality because ones concern about remaining up-to-date with technology is minimized as they struggle stay afloat with mortgage payments, bills, groceries, etc.

soft northern lights aurora show over sparse spruce trees and wind blown snow driftIn Canada, the issue of economics is even more polarizing. Our sparse population creates challenges for internet service providers because they are unable to oversee an infrastructure that brings low-cost, reliable, high-speed internet to every Canadians. A 2022 Deloitte report examined the growing divide. The comprehensive report found that the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated many existing problems regarding access. Price is an important factor in this disparity, with Canada having the highest prices than other G7 countries. Canadians making less than $40000 a year cited cost as a significant barrier to access. However, it is not only rural communities that are impacted. In large urban centres like Toronto, 38% of all households and 52% of low-income households in 2020 had download speeds below the CRTC-defined minimum. 

Educational Disparity

Research suggests that early adopters of technology, especially those in pre-school and kindergarten will find greater long term success when immersed in technology. Conversely, those students that start school having had minimal exposure to tech will be outpaced by their cohorts. Abdullah Masmalli argues that, “as education becomes more deeply immersed in technology, it is essential that schools take steps to provide equal access to devices.” He notes that many educational institutions are quick to digitize learning; however, many are not equipped to support the sheer volume of devices required and many lack a strong technological infrastructure.

High school students, remote workers, and people with disabilities have different technology needs. A mobile device might be sufficient for a senior who only occasionally uses the internet, but a student who only has a mobile device will be at a severe disadvantage when attending a virtual class or completing an online assignment. Teachers are tasked with nurturing student success in all areas including technology. However, a lack of standardized curricula and resources leave educators feeling overwhelmed if they lack sufficient digital skills themselves to effectively teach digital literacy and technology (Deloitte).


It is impossible to dismiss the benefits of technology. However, the stark reality is such that society is not more equitable. Economic disparity remains the most important factor in considering access. High service costs and frequent hardware turnover act to create a more deeply rooted divide. Schools receive less year-over-year funding and education systems struggle to equip classroom teachers with the skills they need to teach tech. The sudden shift during Covid-19 assumed that everyone had the capacity to learn and work online. However, the difficult reality is that many were left behind. Most deeply impacted were students from low-income families who returned to school having experienced even less engagement.

3 thoughts on “Tech Equity: an Issue of Economics

  1. Hey Jeff,
    Thanks for an awesome debate and post. Loved the SNL/Coaches Corner vibe!

    I would agree that technology creates a less equitable society. Your arguments in this post are valuable in helping us comb through the many challenges that technology can bring. Economic disparity, as you mentioned, seemed to be the main argument for most of our classmates who believed technology leads to a greater divide.


  2. Jeff (and Graeme), great job on this week’s debate. Kennedy and Ummey also defended their position well by sharing the many tech tools that exist to support learners; however, I have to say that I still disagree with their argument that technology has created a more equitable society. The 2022 Deloitte Report offered great insights and shows just how complex this issue really is. In your post, you stated that “early adopters of technology, especially those in pre-school and kindergarten will find greater long-term success when immersed in technology. Conversely, those students that start school having had minimal exposure to tech will be outpaced by their cohorts.” This research relates to the “digital” Mattew Effect that Will discussed in his blog post and highlights the inequities that still exist today. Even after close to 40 years (based on the CBC article), it still comes down to money; it’s less about the tech tools that exist and more about a person’s ability to afford the technology needed to get ahead.

  3. Hey Jeff,

    I really enjoyed your debate video and argument. While technology has revolutionized access to information, it has also widened the gap between the haves and the have nots. The rising cost of living and frequent device turnovers have made it difficult for many Canadian families, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented, to provide adequate technology at home. Lack of adequate technology, faulty connections, and underfunded broadband projects have contributed to nearly 65% of households on First Nations reserves not having access to high-speed internet. The issue of economics is more polarizing in Canada due to sparse population, with internet service providers being unable to oversee infrastructure to bring low-cost, reliable, high-speed internet to every Canadian.

    Again, great job on your presentation.

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