Digital Divide

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

Signs of digital distress: Mapping Broadband Availability and Subscription in American Neighborhoods

The internet is now a fundamental component of the American economy, creating new ways to educate, employ, bring services to, and entertain every person. Broadband, especially wireline broadband in American homes, is the essential infrastructure for unlocking the internet’s economic benefits. However, broadband infrastructure is far from ubiquitous, both in terms of where it operates and who subscribes to it, and those deficits are not shared evenly across the country. As such, policymakers must understand how the national digital divide varies depending on the place.

The following research assesses both components of the digital divide, and for the first time studies them in every American metropolitan area and neighborhood. Identifying local gaps—and not just in where telecommunications infrastructure goes, but also who subscribes to it—more comprehensively portrays the extent of digital disconnect.

Can a free market solve the digital divide?

A Q&A with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

He has made it a priority to increase the availability of broadband internet access across America. But the regulations that telecom companies say are preventing them from investing in broadband infrastructure are the ones that also ensure net neutrality. Critics say the trade-off isn't worth it. Chairman Pai wants to use federal subsidies and slash regulations to try to encourage broadband providers to expand their infrastructure.

Informing Strategic Investment in Digital Equity: Cleveland/Cuyahoga County

Commissioned by the Cleveland Foundation, this report’s purpose is to guide the Foundation's staff and partners as they strategically determine how best to dedicate resources toward digital literacy, internet access and broad technological empowerment. The Cleveland Foundation’s Digital Excellence Initiative aims to position Greater Cleveland as a leader in digital innovation and access by investing in efforts that align with the five focus areas of the foundation’s Digital Excellence Initiative:
Creating a more connected community
Supporting digital skills development
Improving digital civic engagement
Elevating regional digital leadership
Encouraging technology innovation for social good

Where the Digital Divide Is the Worst

Despite the continued proliferation of the internet and new digital devices, many low-income communities still lack internet access. Slightly less than half of all households with incomes under $20,000 reported having internet access in the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. By comparison, about 93 percent of wealthier households with annual incomes exceeding $75,000 were connected. Places where low-income households are least connected are most common throughout rural regions of the South and Appalachia. Higher costs of living might explain differences in other regions of the country, where housing or utility expenses leave households with little income to spare. Demographics further contribute to regional disparities as families of Hispanic immigrants have lower internet adoption rates, as do heads of households over age 65.

Broadband Can’t Be Improved Unless It’s Measured

On August 8, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission launched a new assessment of “whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” (otherwise known as the “706 Report”). This report is long overdue, as the report is supposed to be issued annually, but the last 706 Report was released on January 29, 2016. The Notice of Inquiry (NOI) properly seeks comment on both fixed and mobile broadband connections. It acknowledges that the two technologies have different technical characteristics and limitations, and that broadband providers choose to market their fixed and mobile products in different ways. As Commissioner Clyburn notes in her concurring statement, fixed and mobile services are complements, not substitutes.

While some press accounts suggested that the FCC reached a tentative conclusion to equate the two technologies, it only sought comment on this question. The FCC also sought comment on how the markets for fixed and mobile services differ, and it did not say that mobile broadband access is a replacement for fixed broadband. To be clear, the SHLB Coalition does not believe fixed and mobile services are substitutes. Students cannot complete homework and seniors cannot apply for government services with just smartphones. While smartphones can help bridge the digital divide for individuals, they do not replace the gigabit speeds provided by fiber or fixed wireless technologies that anchor institutions need.

Understanding the Trend to Mobile-Only Connections for Internet Access: A Decomposition Analysis

Household internet access via a mobile-only connection increased from 8.86% in 2011 to 20.00% in 2015. This paper uses national data to model the propensity of a mobile-only connection via logistic regressions. An inter-temporal non-linear Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition is then used to determine the driving factors behind this trend. The results show that while changing characteristics over time account for less than 1% of the trend, behavioral relationships changed dramatically as specific groups were much more likely to be adopters of mobile-only in 2015. The primary behavioral relationships leading to increased mobile-only connections are those associated with age (50.55%), race/ethnic background (4.75%), and non-metro status (1.88%). The finding that these demographic groups are becoming more willing to adopt the internet via the mobile-only connection can have important implications for future broadband policy.

Geographic Patterns and Socio-Economic Influences on Internet Use in U.S. States: A Spatial and Multivariate Analysis

Discourse and interest in the digital divide research community is steadily shifting beyond access and adoption to utilization, impact, and outcomes of information and communications technologies (ICTs), particularly the internet. In the United States, studies and surveys conducted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) indicate increase in internet use in every corner of the country over the last two decades. However, recent surveys on ICT use indicate significant disparities in dimensions of internet use. For example Americans’ use of the internet to pursue e-education, e-health, e-commerce, e-entertainment, and telecommuting has varied significantly – longitudinally as well as geographically. Additionally, internet use habits are rapidly expanding, providing new insights into the emerging internet of things, wearable technologies, and new forms of social media usage. As novel technologies and lifestyles emerge, analysis of new disparities and dimensions of the “usage digital divide” stemming from social, economic, societal, and environmental factors becomes important. This research examines spatial clusters, geographic disparities, and socio-economic dimensions of existing and emerging dimensions of internet use among the 50 U.S. states.

FCC asks about the state of mobile broadband. Congress flips out.

[Commentary] Twelve senators wrote to the Federal Communications Commission expressing concern regarding the agency’s latest Notice of Inquiry. The senators’ letter echoes many arguments pressed by various interest groups which seem misguided, or at least premature, given that the agency is simply asking questions to get better information about the state of the industry. But congressional opposition to the Notice of Inquiry is especially odd, given that the proceeding is, well, required by Congress. They are concerned that the agency might conclude that some Americans access internet-based services on mobile networks rather than fixed broadband networks. And while this would give the agency a more complete view of how Americans access “advanced telecommunications capability,” their unstated concern is that it might also show that fewer of us are internet-impoverished, which undermines the case for regulation.

Can Public Schools Close the Digital Divide?

As students across the country head back to school this week, you might imagine their school leaders consumed by last-minute hiring decisions, meetings with principals and other school leaders, and ongoing management of the district’s finances and facilities. But for Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, there’s another topic weighing on her mind: the district’s broadband infrastructure—or the network of equipment and technologies needed to provide high-speed internet service to Albemarle’s classrooms.

Over the past decade since she began leading Albemarle’s schools, she’s been at the helm of the digital transformation reshaping the district. The tools, then, exist to help districts to bridge the digital divide for their students. The problem is that many districts don’t have access to these tools. Places like Albemarle Schools provide a clear example of how school districts can close the digital divide; now we need to address the barriers that keep other districts from following suit.

More digital redlining? AT&T home broadband deployment and poverty in Detroit and Toledo

Mapping analyses of AT&T’s 2016 broadband deployment data reported to the Federal Communications Commission for Wayne County, MI, (Detroit) and Lucas County, OH, (Toledo) show the same pattern of “digital redlining” of low income neighborhoods as National Digital Inclusion Alliance research has previously revealed in the Cleveland and Dayton areas.

The new maps, showing Census blocks in the two counties where AT&T offers fast fiber-enhanced “VDSL” broadband service — and blocks where it doesn’t — are part of NDIA’s ongoing research into the FCC’s Form 477 Fixed Broadband Deployment data for June 2016. NDIA has found a high correlation between neighborhoods where AT&T has chosen not to deploy the newer fiber-to-the-neighborhood technology, and those with poverty rates of 35 percent or more. In areas where the company hasn’t installed VDSL capacity, households as well as small businesses are still dependent on older, slower, all-copper ADSL2 service with maximum downloads speeds as low as 1.5 mbps or even 768 kbps.