The digital divide is not only a rural problem. The digital divide is a problem that unites us across rural, urban, suburban and tribal lands. It is a bipartisan problem. The solution must be multi-pronged: affordable ubiquitous broadband with the appropriate devices and trusted digital literacy and technical support. It has been over a decade since the federal government has supported broadband access and use for disadvantaged communities. The current emergency support for digital inclusion is temporary.
Limiting Broadband Investment to "Rural Only” Discriminates Against Black Americans and other Communities of Color
The federal government’s existing broadband programs target hundreds of millions of dollars to expand broadband availability for residents of “unserved and underserved” rural areas, while studiously ignoring tens of millions of urban Americans who still lack high-speed internet service. This policy framework is counterproductive for reducing the nation’s overall digital divide. It is also structurally racist, discriminating against unconnected Black Americans and other communities of color. We present data below showing that:
In Louisville (KY), most households have access to broadband and pay for a subscription, but neither is universal. The story of Louisville is one of identifying existing resources, building relationships, and continually planning for the next step. In 2017, Louisville released a Digital Inclusion Plan referring to “fiber deserts” in neighborhoods in west and southwest Louisville, which also have the city’s highest unemployment rates. The Digital Inclusion Plan identified lack of technology access and use as an issue that must be addressed.
Over the past year, Brookings Metro and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance pursued research to understand the connections between broadband and health and equity, assess the gaps in broadband access and adoption, the market and policy barriers that lead to those gaps, and promising points of intervention for local, state, and federal leaders to deliver shared value to individuals and entire communities. If broadband is essential infrastructure, the country’s digital divide confirms the challenges to bringing its benefits to every person, regardless of demographics or geography.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has once again urged the Federal Communications Commission to consider broadband adoption rates and affordability in the agency’s annual assessment of “whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion”.
NDIA reviews what the term smart communities entail and how local government leaders are cementing divides if they fail to include strategies for digital inclusion and digital equity in their smart community plans. While there is a common misconception that the digital divide is a rural problem, three-fourths of the twenty million American households who still lack home broadband or mobile data connections live in urbanized areas, not in remote rural regions; and they are very likely low-income. There is still an urban digital divide and smart communities could make it worse.
In 2017, Dr. Brian Whitacre was approached by Attorney Daryl Parks, who was preparing to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission based on the National Digital Inclusion Alliance's study of AT&T’s Digital Redlining of Cleveland (OH). Parks asked Whitacre to conduct an expert assessment of NDIA’s Cleveland research and provide sworn testimony about his findings, which he did. Parks also asked Whitacre to conduct a similar analysis of AT&T broadband services in Dallas County (TX).
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has joined with the Communications Workers of America and Public Knowledge to submit a “friend of the Court” brief in a lawsuit seeking to overturn a Federal Communications Commission order that preempts municipal authority over the use of public property for 5G wireless deployments. The three organizations’ amicus brief was filed with the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
NDIA to Office of the Comptroller of the Currency: Let banks seek CRA credit for digital inclusion support
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has asked the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”), the US Treasury Department agency which serves as the Federal regulator for many of the nation’s banks, to allow those banks to seek Community Reinvestment Act credit for their financial support of community digital inclusion programs serving low and moderate income (LMI) households in their lending areas. In the comments, NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer said: