The gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology, and those with very limited or no access at all.
Broadband’s fundamental value doesn’t come from connecting computers to networks; its value comes from connecting people to opportunity, and society to new solutions. When a broadband network is available but a person who wants to use it can’t do so, then the network is less valuable to everyone else who does use it. That's because the he benefits of broadband adoption do not flow only to the people who are new broadband users. Expanding broadband usage can grow the U.S. economy broadly. Expanding broadband usage, furthering civic engagement, can build stronger democratic institutions.
High-Performance Broadband delivers opportunities and strengthens communities. In the Digital Age, open, affordable, robust broadband is the key to all of us reaching for — and achieving — the American Dream. But since the mid-1990s, the U.S. has struggled with a persistent dilemma called the digital divide — the unfortunate reality that for too many people, meaningful connectivity is out of reach.
There was no "Mr. Watson, come here – I want to see you" moment; instead, 50 years ago in 1969, there was an attempt to login on ARPANET that ended after "lo" because of a system crash. That inauspicious moment led to our connected world of 2019, a time when more than 4 billion people have internet access, and the number of devices connected to internet networks is more than double the global population. But for all the internet's impact, for all those devices, and even though so many have access, too many people remain unconnected.
Libraries Without Borders sought to replicate its digital inclusion strategy in underserved rural and suburban manufactured-housing communities. The project began in Minnesota, with a town hall-style meeting where residents of the Park Plaza Cooperative Community in Fridley shared their vision for a future partnership between the local library and the community. The need for such a partnership is high.
Home broadband subscription rates continue to lag in rural areas, holding back local economies and access to telemedicine. The deployment of broadband networks to rural areas echoes the challenges earlier generations had ensuring that electrical networks and telephone service reached everyone. The solutions those earlier generations employed provide us lessons for today’s broadband challenges. Through the 1930s, many power companies ignored rural areas of the nation even when the federal government offered loans to serve these sparsely populated areas.
In communities where too many people have no access to broadband infrastructure, investing in connections to community anchor institutions is an intermediate step that can pay huge public dividends. Imperial County, located in the sparsely populated desert region of southeastern California, is an exciting example. When relying on a single telecommunications provider and its outdated technology, Imperial County school districts, higher-education institutions, and government agencies had limited access to broadband infrastructure.
Broadband networks do not reach millions of people in the United States. And this lack of access has a significant impact.
In the next decade, everyone in America should be able to use High-Performance Broadband.
The purpose of Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s is to collect, combine, and contribute to a national broadband agenda for the next decade, enlisting the voices of broadband leaders in an ongoing discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere. Leaders at all levels of government should ensure that everyone is able to use High-Performance Broadband in the next decade by embracing the following building blocks of policy:
Bridging the digital divide can help address our nation’s persistent health disparities. Rural Americans not only face limited access to health-care facilities, but “suffer from higher rates of obesity, mental health issues, diabetes, cancer, and opioid addiction.” But the tie that also binds is the lack of high-speed broadband connectivity in low-income communities, too. Rural America, as you know, is facing a physician shortage and low-income and rural populations are less likely to have choice when it comes to broadband providers.