Index Indicator Blog Series: Closing the Internet Divide•
We live in a digital age. There is no denying it. Everything is online: homework, job applications, news, banking, entertainment and even health care. The problem is that not everyone is online. While telecommunications can bring people together, in reality, there is a significant digital divide in the U.S between the haves and the have-nots. Lack of Internet access obstructs opportunity and further frays our image as the land of opportunity for all.
The Opportunity Index identifies Internet Access as one of 16 key factors that affects a region’s capacity to expand economic mobility for its residents. This indicator is measured by the percentage of households with access to high-speed Internet. Increasingly, Internet access has become an ambiguous term because of the wide range in Internet speeds, such as high-speed wired and second-class wireless.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 19 million Americans (6 percent of the U.S. population) live in rural and tribal areas where high-speed Internet is unavailable. Even in areas where broadband is an option, about 100 million Americans still opt out of subscribing, either due to lack of interest or computer illiteracy. The third factor contributing to the digital divide is the heavy price tag placed on high-speed Internet contracts, which many low-income Americans simply cannot afford.
The three groups that report the lowest internet use include African American households, older people and residents of southern states (especially Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas). As a result, the competiveness and quality of life of many in these groups are jeopardized.
Fortunately, some headway has been made to close the digital divide. Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program is now in its third year and offers Internet service for $9.95 per month, discounted computer equipment and free digital literacy training to families with at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program. Some 220,000 families across the U.S. are currently participating in this program.
Additionally, Connect2Compete, a national nonprofit that promotes digital literacy, has partnered with Cox Communications to provide low-income families with high-speed Internet access at a hugely reduced rate. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also working to address the issue. This past August, Zuckerberg launched internet.org, a web access initiative and partnership with six telecommunications and mobile companies to make smartphones, and above all, data, affordable.
Since Internet access is essential in so many areas of our lives, it needs to be seen as a necessity as opposed to a luxury. High-speed Internet access must be made available to a wider demographic, the price of high-speed Internet contracts must be made affordable, and Americans hesitant to connect must be nudged to see how the Internet is relevant to their lives.
Opportunity Index Dimension: Jobs and Local Economy
Indicator: Internet Access
Measure: High-speed Internet (% of households)
Source: Federal Communications Commission Internet Access Services
Rationale for inclusion: Internet access has become a virtual requirement for full participation in American society, necessary for everything from doing homework to applying for jobs to interacting with health-care providers. Indeed, the Internet will soon be the chief way in which people access information, part and parcel of life’s essential infrastructure. Those without this resource are at a severe disadvantage in many areas of expanding opportunity, from applying for jobs to participating in the classroom to accessing information and resources from public and private sources.