Broadband subscriptions are up, but too many households are still disconnected

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Over the past four years, the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) has asked households whether they have access to the Internet “using a broadband (high speed) Internet service such as cable, fiber optic, or DSL service…” The answers reveal where subscriptions are ticking up and where gaps persist.

National Broadband Adoption Continues to Rise: Using ACS data from 2013 through 2017, we find that the country has adopted broadband service at growing rates, especially in some metro areas where subscription rates were the lowest. Yet inconsistent growth rates across metro areas confirm that many people are still left in the digital dark—and show just how far broadband performance is from matching other essential infrastructure systems. 

Lagging Metro Areas Are Catching Up: Across the 100 largest metro areas, the picture looks similar, with broadband adoption rising from 74.8 percent in 2013 to 85.8 percent in 2017. While almost all of these metro areas saw a statistically significant increase in broadband adoption, the gains did not occur evenly. In fact, metro areas with the lowest adoption rates in 2013 tended to see the largest gains over the last four years.

Work Remains for Local Leaders: It’s going to take more policy reforms, pricing assistance, and community engagement to reach the digitally underserved. December 2018, we’ll get the first five-year broadband estimates at the census tract level, meaning we can see how broadband adoption differs across neighborhoods. For now, though, there is reason to be optimistic. The gains we’ve seen in broadband adoption over the past four years are significant. They will have positive impacts on millions of households that are now reliably connected to the Internet, and further strengthen our country’s essential digital foundation. Because America’s economic and social connections are increasingly occurring online, the time to make widespread broadband a priority is now.

Broadband subscriptions are up, but too many households are still disconnected