How governments can close broadband gaps


How governments can close broadband gaps

WHAT: A recent report by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution titled, “Broadband Adoption Rates and Gaps in U.S. Metropolitan Areas.”

WHY: In order for the nation to get the greatest societal and economic benefits from connecting all residents to the Internet, policymakers need to closely watch broadband adoption rates and patterns to understand how and where to further push broadband services.

FINDINGS: To get more Americans online, the report suggests that “local and state governments play a lead role in guiding Internet policy, including infrastructure deployment, public outreach, skills development and affordability programs.”

The report found that while 75.1 percent of American households had broadband subscriptions last year, the distribution of access was determined by demographic factors such as education level, household income and location.

Across the country as a whole, 46.8 percent of households nationwide with incomes less than $20,000 a year had broadband subscriptions in 2014, compared to the 88.8 percent of households making $50,000 or more.

Metropolitan areas tend to have a higher broadband adoption rates (77.8 percent) than the country as a whole (75.1 percent). Similarly, educational attainment and areas where telecommuting is popular have a positive and stronger effect on broadband adoption rates in cities, meaning cities with wealthier, more educated residents tend to have a higher broadband user rate.

“While many metro areas are recording significant gains in broadband adoption, several others are declining or remain stuck in place, reinforcing the continued need to get more Americans online,” the report said.

TAKEAWAYS: In order to connect all residents and ensure the country’s transition to a digital economy, the broadband infrastructure should look like that of the water and electricity utilities. To do this, the report suggests policymakers develop a roadmap that supports income assistance programs, like ConnectHome -- the recent White House initiative that aims to expand broadband reach by partnering with Internet service providers, non-profits and the private sector to reach more than 275,000 low-income households in 27 pilot cities and one tribal nation.  (In related news, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro visited San Francisco on Dec. 8 to draw industry support for the ConnectHome program and encourage companies to participate.)

Other policy recommendations include encouraging public- and private-sector employee telecommuting programs, which will support further broadband adoption while relieving congested roadways in major metropolitan areas. Cities also are encouraged to expand digital skills training at community facilities that provide public Internet access to prepare youth and adults for the digital future.

Additionally, the Brookings report suggests that all levels of government should focus on coordinating more with private Internet service providers already committed to community investment.

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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