COVID-19 Exposes Digital Vulnerabilities

July 6, 2020

Woman with mask using a desktop computer

Now is the time to invest in and to upgrade our country’s crumbling online infrastructure.

The digital infrastructure used by millions of people in this country to perform basic tasks is profoundly broken. COVID-19 has exposed just how vulnerable we are to old and antiquated systems and decades old coding. Slow, confusing, and inadequate digital infrastructure nationwide is hindering our ability to help people when they need it most.

Even before the pandemic, online offerings were unreliable and often led to virtual dead-ends. At the Federal level, veterans sometimes failed to receive benefits, while states and municipalities struggled to provide functional basic services like filing for food assistance, renewing drivers licenses, applying for permits, and getting a business license.

Over the past few months, people all across America have turned to their local municipal websites seeking information to understand what “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” means in their local communities. And it’s changing day by day. Families worried for their livelihoods are overwhelming websites to apply for unemployment insurance through outdated state websites that cannot handle the crushing load. Small business owners trying to obtain life-line loans encountered the Small Business Administration website crash on the opening day of the Payment Protection Program.

Today, very few of us can simply visit our government buildings in person to resolve broken online issues. And in the few states where you can, who would want to during Coronavirus? Everyone has been driven online and the massive gaps in our digital infrastructure are unacceptable and unsustainable.

It’s time for investment in digital infrastructure that we can all rely on for everyday life — and in crisis. The World Economic Forum and organizations like the Alliance for Digital Innovation offer ideas for the future and next steps we should all get behind to help to ensure that investment in digital infrastructure is part of our national COVID-19 response effort.

We can’t only rely on Washington, D.C. We’ll still need to find answers closer to home. Now is the time for local elected officials, municipal governments, and community leaders to respond to urgent, sometimes life-saving community needs. To do this effectively, we must stop treating municipal websites as an afterthought and see them as part of the vital American infrastructure; an asset that empowers our people and our economy.

Moving forward, governments at every level should accelerate the move to cloud infrastructure to enable mobile- and screenless (voice-based) interactions with computing systems. We should make bold investments to ensure government services across the country are accessible online. We should make sure that basic online services actually work.

The lives of everyone in our country are on the line and depend on timely, clear communication and vital online access to assistance programs. It should be as easy to find and receive all the fundamental services that our government provides as easily as we place an Amazon order. The time to act and invest is now.