University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali spoke about rural broadband with the Reimagine New York Commission. The rural-urban digital divide is primarily one of infrastructure. At least 22.3% of rural Americans, or 15.8 million people, lack access to broadband infrastructure and are therefore cut off from the internet.
“Middle-skill” jobs make up a large portion of the market, has positions to fill, but suffers from a dearth of trained workers—especially when it comes to digital skills. Digital skills refer to a person’s ability to use digital tools, applications, and networks to access and manage information. Pandemic-driven unemployment will only put the middle-skill issue into sharper relief.
About one-third of the U.S. job market is made up of middle-skill jobs, which do not require four-year college degrees. Data indicate that the number of these jobs exceeds the supply of available workers. The skills needed for these jobs include facility with the internet and computers.
The Open Technology Institute's latest study of the price of internet service, The Cost of Connectivity 2020, finds substantial evidence of an affordability crisis in the United States. From service plans that meet the current Federal Communications Commission definition for broadband at 25/3 Mbps to bigger, bolder standards, U.S. consumers pay more for monthly internet prices on average than European consumers based on advertised metrics. And, perhaps just as importantly, U.S.
An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society. Service is often unavailable or too expensive in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods. This has forced people into parking lots outside libraries, schools and coffee shops to find a reliable signal — while others are simply staying logged off.
We urge Congress to establish a broadband credit — call it America’s Broadband Credit — to ensure many more people can afford high-speed Internet access. Congress could set a household subsidy of $50 per month, which is roughly the cost of medium-tier broadband plans in urban settings (and it could provide a higher subsidy for tribal lands). That subsidy would allow anyone and any device in the household to be connected to the Internet, simultaneously, which is how so many families today are operating.
Back in April, a Pew Research Center survey found that 53% of U.S. adults say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic. Another 34% say it has been important. Those attitudes are reflected in increased traffic over home broadband networks.
On May 12, House Democrats unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. "We are presenting a plan to do what is necessary to address the corona crisis," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she announced the legislation.
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:
Michigan State University's Quello Center reported this week that middle and high school students with high-speed Internet access at home have more digital skills, higher grades, and perform better on standardized tests, such as the SAT. Regardless of socioeconomic status, students who cannot access the Internet from home or are dependent on a cell phone for Internet access do worse in school and are less likely to attend college or university. The deficit in digital skills contributes to lower student interest in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math.