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The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the critical need for a digitally connected world. However, many rural communities and developing countries don’t have the basic infrastructure to support internet connectivity, creating a digital divide. American Tower, a global provider of wireless communications infrastructure, is working to change that by placing innovative computer kiosks in remote areas in Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria and Uganda.
Read on to hear from Mneesha Ohri Nahata, American Tower's Vice President and Legal and Corporate Sustainability Officer, on the company’s efforts to increase computer literacy and help create digitally empowered societies. What follows has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q. Access to technology and information is a must-have in today’s society. How has American Tower helped provide access to those who have been historically underserved?
Many developing nations continue to face the challenge of internet access because of cost, scalability, power outages and educational barriers. American Tower helps to close the digital gap by leveraging our global tower footprint of approximately 181,000 sites through Digital Villages. Digital Villages are computer-equipped kiosks that use uninterrupted power supply and broadband connection from our nearby sites to provide communities with free education and training in technology and access to digital services.
As of the end of 2019, more than 62,000 individuals had completed training courses through the Digital Villages. We have built a total of approximately 240 Digital Villages across communities in Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria and Uganda.
Q. What types of information and training programs are American Tower able to provide through Digital Villages?
Greater connectivity translates into multiple development benefits, as it creates more opportunities that improve living conditions, especially for the poorest and most marginalized communities. In our experience, Digital Villages help empower communities by building their digital capability so they can fully participate in e-learning and e-services. They provide an invaluable resource that allows students to learn to use the internet, to build their skills and training, improve their reading and writing skills, expand their employment prospects, and facilitate their use of telehealth, internet banking and e-governance services.
Q. How are Digital Villages affecting local communities?
We continue to receive an incredible response to our Digital Villages program from local communities and governments. We have seen a transformation in these communities as the program helps address some of the most pressing challenges, including reducing poverty and inequality, increasing quality education, achieving gender equality, and improving access to employment. In India, approximately 430 students have received job placements following certification from the Digital Villages training program.
Q. How does the Digital Villages program partner with other entities to promote this opportunity?
The Digital Villages program relies on a critical fabric of partnerships across industry and government. In India, we partnered with Hewlett Packard Enterprise to sign an agreement with the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology as part of the Prime Minister’s Digital India program. Through the project, we provide telehealth services to marginalized communities, including facilitating health monitoring and connecting patients with medical professionals. In Mexico, our newest market, the non-governmental organization, Save the Children, uses our Digital Villages to teach reading and writing skills and offer summer courses, in addition to providing traditional technology courses.
For more information on American Tower’s Digital Villages and other philanthropic efforts visit americantower.com/corporate-responsibility.