Why are Veterans a "Covered Population"?
Thursday, August 24, 2023
Why are Veterans a "Covered Population"?
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Digital Equity Act recognizes eight “covered populations” as disproportionately experiencing digital inequity. These groups are to be a focus of efforts supported through grants and planning processes:
- Individuals living in households with incomes at or below 150 percent of the poverty line.
- Individuals 60 years of age or older.
- Individuals with disabilities.
- Individuals with barriers to the English language (including English language learners and those with low literacy).
- Members of racial and ethnic minority groups.
- Individuals residing in rural areas.
- Individuals incarcerated in non-federal correctional facilities.
These groups experience difficulties accessing the internet for varied yet overlapping reasons. In this and upcoming articles, we look at data that explains why these populations are being targeted for digital equity efforts.
As of 2017, there were approximately 18.2 million veterans in the United States, constituting approximately 7.3 percent of the adult U.S. population.
An analysis of 2016 American Community Survey data found that U.S. veterans lagged in internet access when compared with non-veterans. More recently, the lack of access to the internet became more visible when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) tried to employ telemedicine and other technology-enabled approaches to serving veterans.
In a 2019 report assessing broadband access and adoption, the Federal Communications Commission found that a significant number of veterans (2.2 million households) lacked access to fixed broadband, mobile broadband, or both. Specifically, for 92.5 percent of veterans, at least one provider of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps fixed broadband services was available, but only 78.4 percent of veterans had 10 Mbps/3 Mbps mobile LTE broadband coverage. Among households with veterans, approximately 85 percent, or 14.4 million, reported that they had paid connections to the internet in their homes. (In comparison to non-veteran households, veteran households had at that time a slightly higher percentage subscription rate for fixed broadband.) However, households with veterans subscribed to mobile broadband services at lower rates than households without veterans. The FCC found that more veterans used a mobile device (62.2 percent) to connect to the internet in any location, compared with using a desktop (37.8 percent) or laptop (44.4 percent) computer.
For those veterans who lacked a broadband connection, the FCC reported that barriers to broadband adoption included insufficient digital literacy, perception of irrelevance, price, and lack of deployment where they live.
- Two-thirds of veteran households without internet users indicated that the primary reason was lack of interest or necessity. The tendency of veterans to be older than the general population, coupled with digital literacy challenges for senior citizens, may make digital literacy an especially important challenge for veterans’ broadband adoption.
- Veterans with the lowest incomes are most likely to go without broadband at home, indicating that price is a significant barrier to adoption.
- Veterans were more likely than non-veterans to cite lack of a computer (or an inadequate computer) as the primary barrier to subscribing to an internet service.
- Veterans residing in rural areas are likely to have more limited access to fixed and mobile broadband services in the home.
Differences between veterans’ and non-veterans’ broadband adoption, the FCC found, reflected both the overall demographics of the populations and issues unique to veterans.
For example, while veterans were more likely to live in a household without children and the mobile broadband subscription rate for these households lags behind the rate for non-veteran households without children, veteran households with children subscribed to mobile broadband at higher rates than non-veteran households with children. Income also played a role: veterans were less likely to be among those with the lowest incomes (in the lowest quintile), a group that tends to subscribe to fixed and mobile broadband at lower rates; veterans were more often in the middle of the income distribution (third and fourth quintiles) groups that adopt fixed broadband at higher rates.
Veteran households were more likely to be men living alone than non-veteran households. Male-only households at the time subscribed to fixed and mobile broadband at lower rates than average, and veteran male-only households subscribed to both fixed and mobile broadband at lower rates than non-veteran male-only households. Fixed and mobile broadband subscription rates were also lower for female-only households in general, but veteran female-only households were more likely to subscribe to fixed and mobile broadband than non-veteran female-only households.
For more see:
- Report on Promoting Broadband Internet Access Service for Veterans, Pursuant to the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act of 2018. Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission. (May 2019)
- “Transcript: Veterans and the Digital Divide with Robin Kelleher & U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough” Washington Post (December 6, 2021)
- U.S. Census Bureau, Veterans Day 2018: Nov. 11
- Peter J. Ahn, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Enterprise Integration, Veteran Population Projection Model 2016
- Profile of Veterans: Internet Use Deep Dive. National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (April 2018)
An excerpt from Visions of Digital Equity (August 2023) available at www.benton.org/sites/default/files/VisionsDigitalEquity.pdf
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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