John Horrigan

Students of Color Caught in the Homework Gap

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection. Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households.

Baltimore's Digital Divide: Gaps in Internet Connectivity and the Impact on Low-income City Residents

Large numbers of Baltimore households lack two essential tools for getting online: wireline broadband service at home and access to a computer. According to the 2018 American Community Survey, 96,000 households in Baltimore (40.7%) did not have wireline internet service, such as cable, fiber, or digital subscriber line service. And some 75,000 Baltimore City households, or one in three, do not have either a desktop or laptop computer.

The National Broadband Plan at 10: A decade of lessons on increasing home broadband adoption

The 10th Anniversary of the National Broadband Plan offers a chance to reflect on the progress made in the past 10 years and lessons for the future. My focus will be on the progress in addressing the digital divide – increasing the number of Americans with broadband at home. The National Broadband Plan’s guiding principles for broadband adoption still resonate:

Measuring the Gap

As policymakers consider digital inclusion solutions, understanding the root of the problem is important. There are a number of ways people’s decisions not to subscribe to broadband could play out. Older adults – especially those on fixed incomes – may find the monthly fee burdensome but also struggle with the skills to use the internet. Low-income households, particularly those with children, likely understand the internet’s importance, but they may struggle with service affordability.

Broadband and Cities

New analysis of broadband adoption in a selection of cities shows a strong relationship between low household broadband adoption levels and poverty. The analysis also shows that rising economic tides in cities has little to do with recent growth in broadband adoption – but that declines in poverty rates do.

Skills training is the key to ending the digital divide

The Technology Policy Institute conducted a survey of 1,275 people on Comcast’s Internet Essentials service to explore what having service at home means to low-income households. The research shows that once people subscribe to broadband, school-age children use home access for schoolwork and streaming educational media. Their parents also quickly get hooked, using the internet to search for jobs and to manage their lives more efficiently.

Digital Divide Isn’t Just a Rural Problem

The digital divide – the “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to internet access and use – is an abiding concern for telecommunication and internet policymakers at all levels of government. The Federal Communications Commission’s focus on deployment means policymakers miss an entirely different dimension of the problem – broadband adoption. Ensuring the ubiquity of high-speed networks is a laudable goal. But if a lot of people are not subscribing even when networks pass their residences, that’s a different problem. Analysis of broadband adoption data shows that:

How Do We Measure Broadband?

Measuring broadband is an ongoing challenge for policymakers and, for many participants in broadband policy debates, often a source of frustration. The frustration about broadband measurement emanates from what seems knowable – at least it is about other infrastructure. We know where our roads and highways run. Today it is easy to know when they are clogged, where there are tolls, and how much those tolls cost. Electric infrastructure is essentially ubiquitous and it isn’t hard, in most places, to find out the cost of a kilowatt hour and compare prices among providers.

Reaching the Unconnected: Benefits for kids and schoolwork drive broadband subscriptions, but digital skills training opens doors to household internet use for jobs and learning

Not so long ago, “closing the digital divide” primarily meant getting people online, and a steady upward trend in adoption is evidence of progress on that front. Yet gaps in broadband adoption remain – particularly for low-income households – and closing those gaps is about more than simply offering a low-cost internet service. Even with the availability of low-cost offers, it remains a challenge to encourage the remaining disconnected people to sign up for broadband service.

Smart Cities and Digital Equity

Cities across the US are trying to become “smart cities,” as they invest in digital technologies to help monitor the environment, enhance mobility, and improve the delivery of municipal services. An examination of several cities which have sought to embrace smart city technology while keeping equity in the forefront shows that: