A resident of Estonia accesses that country’s patient web portal to book an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. (Postimees/Scanpix Baltics via Reuters Connect)

In 1995, the U.S. National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration was the first government body to empirically document the existence of the “digital divide”—the gap between those who do and do not have ready access to internet service. In a report that year—”Falling Through the Net“—the agency described the geographic, demographic, and economic divides in the adoption and use of the internet. The report was prescient in recognizing the role that disparate infrastructure and hardware access played in driving digital inequality and showed how those inequalities impacted how people were using the internet.

The NTIA report also made a crucial wrong bet. It assumed that there was “an” internet and that fixed-line broadband to a…

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