Broadband gap tied to income, study finds

A substantial portion of low income households in the United States do not have access to broadband Internet connections, a computer, or both. These numbers, compiled in an upcoming report, indicate that a major challenge for federal, state and local governments will be to identify and target specific underprivileged populations and regions for broadband connectivity efforts.

The Obama administration's National Broadband Plan calls, among other goals, for every American to have access to affordable broadband service by 2020.

In its soon to be released report, Connected Nation, a nonprofit group promoting increased Internet access across all strata of American society, found that a number low-income homes in the United States lack access to broadband services.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Only 37 percent of low-income minority households with children have broadband at home.
  • Only 46 percent of all low-income households with children have broadband at home.
  • The report estimates that 17 million children do not have broadband at home, and that 7.6 million of them live in low-income households.
  • 40 percent of low-income households do not own a computer, compared to 9 percent of all other households.
  • The cost of access and computer ownership is the primary reason cited by low-income households for why they do not adopt broadband.

The report notes that broadband access is an important necessity for conducting business and managing modern life. But broadband adoption drops in poor neighborhoods. Research by Connected Nation indicates that 60 percent of low-income households own computers, compared to 91 percent of the rest of the population. Additionally, only 46 percent of low-income households have home broadband access, while home broadband penetration is 66 percent nationally.

Lack of access to broadband has a detrimental impact on children and a long-term impact on the national economy. The report notes that children lacking broadband access are less likely to graduate form high school and more likely to have lower wage earning potential when they enter the workforce. “It has a broader effect on the economy as a whole and government in particular,” said Tom Koutsky, Connected Nation’s chief policy counsel.

A wide disparity between the haves and have-nots could create a permanently disconnected underclass, which would create a significant drag on the economy, Koutsky said. Connected Nation is conducting further studies to understand the reasons why communities do not adopt broadband. Policy must be targeted to cover these specific reasons, he said.

Steps are also being taken to address the broadband gap. Koutsky noted that there are a number of state and local programs underway. Two examples include a program in Ohio that offers free weekend training classes at local libraries and community colleges to educate people about computers and the Internet, and an effort in Tennessee designed to provide children with computer training and digital literacy courses. “There’s a lot of room for creativity in this space,” he said.

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