In the U.S., broadband internet access has become essential. Quality internet service is required to complete homework, access telehealth services, and work remotely. Despite this, millions of Americans still have limited access to high-speed internet due to the broadband divide.
Fortunately, state and federal governments have taken steps to remedy this issue. They have awarded hundreds of contracts that are geared toward building out rural broadband infrastructure. Some jurisdictions have even incentivized providers to offer discounted rates to low-income families. Below, we’ll take a closer look at these efforts while assessing what caused the broadband divide in the first place.
What Is the Broadband Divide?
The phrase “broadband divide” refers to the lack of access to high-speed internet that exists in many rural communities. Many Americans have no access to broadband internet. While the exact number of individuals varies depending on who you ask, roughly 25% of Americans are believed to lack basic access to broadband internet. Others have access but cannot afford the service.
What Caused the Broadband Divide?
There is no singular cause of the broadband divide. This widespread lack of access to high-speed internet can be linked to several factors, such as:
Many Americans in low income areas may have access to high-speed internet but simply cannot afford to purchase services. This is especially common in areas where there is no competition among providers. If an internet service provider is the only game in town, they have little incentive to lower prices.
Geography and Infrastructure
The largest factor that influences the broadband divide is geography. Many rural communities do not have the existing infrastructure in place to support high-speed internet. As a result, no service providers offer broadband in their area. These individuals may be forced to rely on satellite-based services, depend on a mobile hotspot, or commute to the nearest access point when they need to connect to the internet.
Some individuals do not have broadband internet due to a lack of digital proficiency. This demographic primarily includes older individuals that do not understand the benefits of high-speed internet. They may not be comfortable with new technologies or services.
What Are the Impacts of the Broadband Divide?
The broadband divide has negatively impacted millions of people. A few of the downfalls of a lack of high-speed internet access include:
Even before the pandemic, many school districts were issuing homework digitally. During lockdowns and school closures, these institutions provided students with work that was delivered exclusively in a digital format. Children without access to broadband were unable to keep up with their studies and were at a greater risk of falling behind.
Reduced Access to Telehealth Services
Telehealth is a convenient way for individuals to receive medical care for routine illnesses and injuries. Physicians can use telehealth tools to speak directly with patients and issue them prescriptions as needed.
Individuals in rural communities are often unable to access these services, which means that they must commute long distances to receive medical care.
Lack of Remote Work Opportunities
Remote work has become the norm for millions of people the world over. However, the broadband divide prevented many Americans from working from home. Instead, they were forced to quit their jobs or drive to a local business that provided public internet access to perform essential functions for their roles.
How to Solve the Broadband Divide
Resolving the broadband divide will require a multifaceted approach. Individuals that lack digital proficiency should be educated on the benefits of high-speed internet. By providing these prospective users with free resources, organizations can begin to close the broadband divide for this particular demographic.
Another solution is to subsidize broadband access in rural areas. Governments can incentivize major ISPs to offer discounted rates to qualifying residents. Some jurisdictions are already using this strategy with great success.
While the tactics outlined above will help close the broadband divide, none of these solutions will work without quality internet infrastructure in place. Expanding national infrastructure and upgrading existing resources should be priority number one in the fight to close the broadband divide.
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