Digital Divide

The gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology, and those with very limited or no access at all.

Three Generations of Failure

We are now in the third generation talking about getting broadband out to all our citizens. We are nowhere near getting the job done. It’s a market failure. It’s a government failure. And it’s a national embarrassment. Big telcos and their allies at the Federal Communications Commission and Congress tell us all is well and we’re on track. Pretty long track! Make that claim in many of our inner cities like Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Newark and you will get laughed out of town.

From Places to People—Connecting Individuals to Community Anchor Institutions

Policymakers should help enable community anchor institutions to connect to their users wherever they are. Policymakers should recognize that the mission of community anchor institutions is to improve lives. Broadband is a key element in fulfilling that mission. Baltimore’s public school system has created a classroom in a community center to offer training in internet access. Librarians note that the provision of skills training is a natural fit with the historic missions of their institutions—offering a trusted space in which people of all ages can learn in the ways that best suit them.

What is the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund?

On February 7, the Federal Communications Commission released the report and order that creates the framework for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the latest effort to extend the reach of broadband networks deeper into rural America. The FCC's own research estimates that $80 billion is needed to bring broadband everywhere in the U.S., so the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a significant -- although likely insufficient -- step in closing the digital divide over the next decade. Here we review the framework and note some controversy around the FCC decision.

What Did the FCC Do to Close the Digital Divide?

It's budget season. Federal departments and agencies are making their funding requests to Congress for fiscal year 2021 (starting October 1, 2020 and ending September 30, 2021). And part of the ask is reporting how well an agency did achieving its FY 2019 goals. One of the primary goals of the Federal Communications Commission is to close the digital divide in rural America.

A First for Digital Equity and Broadband Adoption

The House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing entitled Empowering and Connecting Communities Through Digital Equity and Internet Adoption.

Digital Equity and Broadband Adoption

Current research suggests that low-income people can only afford to pay about $10  monthly for broadband. Anything more competes with other utility bills and the cost of food. Meeting the goal of universal connectivity and providing fixed broadband at about $10 per month requires a multi-pronged strategy - what my Benton colleague Jonathan Sallet calls an “Affordability Agenda.” It includes:

State of Broadband 2020

In Washington, DC, today, policymakers, public interest advocates and nonprofits, researchers, and the business community are gathering for the 2020 State of the Net Conference. Hosted by the Internet Education Foundation, State of the Net explores important, emerging trends and their impact on internet policy.

Creating an Affordability Agenda

Cost is the primary reason that people do not subscribe to broadband. Current research suggests that low-income people can only afford to pay about $10 per month for broadband. One set of participants told researchers that affording $20 per month would be difficult; even at $10-15/month, low-income households are making tough decisions about paying for internet access vs utility bills (such as phone and electricity) and even the cost of food. To meet the challenge of providing fixed broadband at roughly $10 per month requires implementation of a variety of strategies.

Digital Skills and Broadband Adoption

Anne Schwieger, Boston’s broadband and digital equity advocate, explains: “Broadband is best understood as an ecology that allows places and people to adapt, evolve, and create.” But for too many people, the digital skills needed to use broadband effectively are too elusive. Governments—with nonprofits, private broadband providers, and community support—are working to ensure that broadband is not just deployed but used. That’s a multifaceted effort that depends on trust and resources.

The FCC's Latest Plan to Close the Rural Digital Divide

This week we learned that the Federal Communications Commission will vote on its latest plan to subsidize broadband deployment in rural areas at its January meeting. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, first proposed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai back in August, will provide up to $20.4 billion over the next decade to support the deployment of broadband networks in those parts of rural America that currently lack fixed broadband service that meets the FCC's baseline speed standards (25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload).