According to the Federal Communications Commission — more than 14 million Americans lack broadband access. However, a recent study found the actual number of people lacking access to affordable, reliable broadband in the U.S is closer to 42 million, and a separate analysis of usage data suggests that as many as 120 million Americans are not using the internet at broadband speeds. This digital divide threatens access to the full promise of the American Dream for too many communities.
The challenge is especially acute in income insecure communities where too many cannot afford broadband service or lack access to infrastructure and devices. American communities are being left behind without access to broadband infrastructure, without the resources they need to afford broadband service, without access to broadband-supported devices for telework and school and without the digital skills necessary to utilize the full potential of digital technology.
Nearly 40 percent of income-insecure adults do not have access to broadband services at home and almost 30 percent of Americans with access face financial uncertainty continuing to afford their service. On average, broadband service costs around $60 per month, but many Americans cannot spare that amount every month for broadband internet access. This gap in affordability reinforces historic barriers to opportunity, undermining efforts to bring greater equity to American communities.
Now is the time to completely and permanently eliminate the digital divide. Americans without affordable and reliable broadband service are too often unable to participate in the 21st century economy and classroom and are denied access to digital tools and technologies that support better health care outcomes and expanded opportunities. Congress can accomplish this goal by making substantial infrastructure investments in deployment, adoption and skills training to ensure every American has access to an affordable, reliable broadband connection at home — and the devices and skills to use their connection — to can unlock the full potential of 21st century digital tools.
Connect Americans Now (CAN) is a Microsoft supported community of more than 300 organizations and companies representing leading voices in agriculture, education, health care, veterans’ issues, technology and small business — committed to urgent action to completely and permanently bridge the broadband gap.
The Problem: Breaking Down the Digital Divide
Broadband internet is vital for the expansion of economic opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. CAN believes a lack of broadband denies access to the full promise of the American Dream for too many of our communities. Americans without broadband internet need the resources required to afford broadband service, access to broadband-supported devices and the digital skills necessary to utilize the full potential of digital technology.
Equity: The broadband gap disproportionately impacts communities of color. 35 percent of Latino adults and 29 percent of African American adults lack a broadband connection at home. This stark divide not only exacerbates systemic challenges but hinders the economic progress of the entire nation. We must work to ensure every community has the means to succeed.
Workforce and Jobs: Nearly one-third of Americans aged 16 to 64 have no or very limited digital skills. This negatively impacts American companies who rely on a skilled workforce to remain competitive and succeed and hurts communities that face persistent income insecurity and a lack of upward mobility and opportunity.
Health Care: Americans’ use of broadband-enabled telehealth solutions climbed 35 percent from 2019 to 2020. More than 75 percent of Americans say they would like to use telehealth services in the future, but Americans without broadband access are being left behind without access to these tools that can increase access to care, improve health care outcomes and enhance quality of life.
Education: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 15 million American students (30 percent of public school attendees) lacked broadband service, a device or both needed to support distance learning at home. That number climbed during the pandemic to as many as 17 million students. Students in rural and urban areas feel the negative impact of this persistent broadband gap. Studies show that students without home access to broadband internet are less likely to plan to attend college, face a digital skills gap equivalent to three years’ worth of schooling and score lower on standardized tests.
Agriculture: Broadband brings the promise of precision agriculture and remote monitoring equipment – helping farmers optimize irrigation, conserve resources and increase yields, but as many as 29 percent of American farms lack broadband access. Closing the digital divide will unleash the full potential of American agriculture.
The Solution: Closing the Broadband Gap
More than ever, creating good jobs, lifting wages, reducing poverty, improving health outcomes and strengthening education depend on affordable, reliable broadband connectivity in every American community. A lack of access and affordability are holding our country back. In rural Arizona, only seven percent of adults have access to a broadband connection. And in New York City, broadband infrastructure is present, but nearly half of adults still don’t use the internet at broadband speeds.
CAN encourages members of Congress to support a three-pronged infrastructure approach to close the broadband gap completely and permanently in every American community:
- Deployment: Investments in mixed-technology for physical broadband infrastructure to reach Americans without access to broadband service in the most cost-effective and rapid manner possible.
- Adoption: Adequate funding to ensure all Americans can afford broadband service and access to the devices, like tablets and laptops, necessary to participate in the digital economy. America needs permanent funding mechanisms to ensure that the income insecure—whether they are living in urban centers or rural communities—all have access to the same opportunities.
- Skills: Programs to unlock digital skills every American needs to participate in our 21st century digital world. Without these skills, large portions of our population will not be able to utilize the full potential of digital technology to further their education, participate in our evolving workforce or access tools that can improve their health and quality of life.