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Fall 2016   

    HIGHLIGHTS IN THIS ISSUE:


Community Development and the Digital Divide

Highlights

      • Infrastructure gains have increased the availability of high-speed broadband, but disparities remain, especially between urban and rural areas. Gaps also persist in Internet use, which varies by race, income, and educational attainment.
      • Lack of high-speed Internet access can negatively impact economic growth, household income, educational performance, healthcare access, and employment searches.
      • Several federal, state, and local programs — including HUD’s ConnectHome initiative — aim to close the digital divide through investments in infrastructure, affordable broadband connections and devices, and digital literacy training.



Photo shows front and side facades of three-story apartment buildings within a complex.

The state of California gives extra points for projects that offer in-unit broadband when awarding low-income housing tax credits. Eden Housing’s Cottonwood Place, in Freemont, provides wired access and a modem to each of its 98 units. Jeff Peters, Vantage Point Photography, Inc.

Internet access, specifically highspeed broadband Internet access, spurs innovation and collaboration, fosters economic activity and growth, and facilitates access to information and services. Increasingly, people need Internet access to secure and sustain employment opportunities, pursue and succeed in education, and obtain healthcare; as President Obama has said, “today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”1 Since 2000, public and private investments have led to dramatic advances in the infrastructure, availability, and usage of in-home broadband, but some disparities remain, creating a digital divide between those who have access to a highspeed Internet connection and those who do not. Further, even as broadband availability nears universality, differences in adoption, digital literacy, and outcomes associated with Internet usage result in ongoing disparities that persist even as the disadvantages of not having broadband increase. A host of federal, state, and local initiatives aim to close the remaining gaps and achieve digital inclusion for all. Broadband access is a central concern of housing and community development because of its physical infrastructure as well as its implications for social and economic activity in communities throughout the nation.

Connecting to the Internet

Individuals can access the Internet through a growing variety of connection types and devices and at various speeds. For high-speed access to the Internet, users must connect through broadband, “a method of transmitting information using many different frequencies, or bandwidths, allowing a network to carry more data.”2 As content and technology, such as streaming videos, have evolved, the minimum speed required to optimize Internet use has increased. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised the standard for high-speed broadband sufficient to support “advanced telecommunications capability,” setting the new mark at 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream (information downloaded from the Internet to the user’s device) and 3 Mbps upstream (information uploaded from the user’s device to the Internet).3

Residential Internet connections rely on an extensive infrastructure that often uses existing utility poles, conduits, and rights of way. In recent years, broadband providers have made significant investments to expand this infrastructure, reportedly tens of billions of dollars annually. Substantial public investment supplements these efforts. Federal funding has supported upgrades to more than 111,500 miles of network infrastructure since 2009.4 Such infrastructure is critical for getting higher speeds to end users, but the users’ speed is often limited by the maximum capacity of last-mile connections — the final connection between the Internet and the device. In other words, even if enhanced infrastructure makes a high-speed connection possible, that connection will be only as fast as the slowest link in the network, which often is the one within the home. As of June 30, 2015, there were around 342 million Internet connections (100 million fixed and 242 million mobile) of at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) in at least one direction (download or upload) in the United States, according to the FCC.5 Of the fixed connections, 24.4 million were slower than 10 Mbps.6 Various technologies transmit broadband signals with a range of speed capacities:

  • Digital subscriber line (DSL). DSL offers faster speeds than phone lines, from several hundred Kbps and higher.
  • Cable. Coaxial cable with a modem can provide speeds of 1.5 Mbps or more. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association estimates that 93 percent of U.S. households have the wiring necessary to make high-speed Internet service available to them using cable.7
  • Fiber. Fiber-optic technology can achieve speeds tens or hundreds of Mbps faster than DSL or cable, but this speed varies considerably depending on how close the fiber gets to the user’s device.
  • Wireless. A radio link between the end user and the service provider offers speeds that are comparable to those of DSL or cable connections but that can be less expensive to provide in sparsely populated areas.
  • Satellite. Satellite technology produces a wireless signal with a download speed of 500 Kbps that is faster than dial-up connections but slower than DSL or cable. Satellite connections can reach remote areas but are vulnerable to weather interference.
  • Power lines. An emerging technology with speeds comparable to cable that has the advantage of using facilities that now exist nearly everywhere in the country.8

As of June 2015, residential fixed connections with downstream speeds of at least 10 Mbps were overwhelmingly (73%) cable modem connections, followed by smaller shares using DSL (13%) and fiber (12%).9

The Digital Divide(s)

Although millions of people have in-home broadband connections, many remain unconnected or have connections that are slow or unreliable. The so-called digital divide, the gap between the broadband haves and have-nots, primarily concerns the availability of broadband — that is, the option to purchase broadband service if one can afford it. This “first-level” divide falls largely along urban and rural lines and becomes more pronounced at higher speed standards. At the FCC’s minimum broadband speed standard of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, 39 percent of residents in rural areas, 41 percent in Tribal lands, and 66 percent in U.S. territories lacked access to fixed broadband in 2014 compared with 10 percent of the U.S. population as a whole. Even though this disparity lessens at lower speed standards, it still persists: 25 percent of rural residents lack access to 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream broadband connections, and 19 percent lack access to speeds of 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.10 However, the availability gap between urban and rural areas has closed somewhat since 2012.11 The urban/rural disparity also applies to mobile broadband. Fifty-three percent of the overall U.S. population lacks access to speeds of 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream compared with 87 percent of those living in rural areas.12 The FCC finds that individuals without access to broadband typically live in areas with a lower average population density, lower average per capita income, lower median household income, and a higher percentage of households in poverty than do individuals who do have access.13 These differences in speed matter for getting the most out of applications and content, which have grown increasingly sophisticated. Michael Liimatta, former manager of HUD’s ConnectHome program and cofounder of Connecting for Good, says that “being underconnected can be as limiting as being unconnected.” Similarly, accessing the Internet through smartphones rather than computers can limit what users can do with the Internet.14


A man and a woman are seated in front of computers with four other adults standing behind them.

Comcast, a partner in HUD’s Connect Home initiative, has expanded eligibility for its low-cost, high-speed Internet Essentials program to an estimated 2 million HUD-assisted households. Comcast Corporation

Even in areas where high-speed Internet is available, various barriers may still prevent people from using the service. Nationally, residential Internet use among households in 2015 was 73 percent (compared with 74% in 2013).15 Internet use from any location among individuals ages 3 and older in 2015 was 75 percent. Yet, for the most part, this usage is at speeds slower than the FCC broadband standard; only 29 percent of households in the United States had adopted broadband at rates of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream in 2013.16 Data collected by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on Internet use — accessing the Internet at any speed, from any location, through any device — show that the digital divides are shrinking in terms of age, educational attainment, and race, although significant gaps persist (figs. 1, 2, and 3).

Internet use also varies considerably by income. According to calculations by the Council of Economic Advisers, only 49 percent of households in the lowest income quintile (those earning less than $21,700) use the Internet at home compared with 95 percent of households in the highest income quintile.17 Finally, limited evidence suggests a divide by residential tenure. A California survey found that 81 percent of homeowners and 77 percent of renters had high-speed Internet at home, although those numbers drop to 78 percent of homeowners and 66 percent of renters when those with smartphones only are excluded.18 Significantly, the Pew Research Center reports that over the past 15 years, there has been at most a modest gap in Internet use between men and women, and that gap is now negligible.19

After availability and adoption, differences in levels of digital literacy — the ability to use digital technologies to find, create, and use information — divide those who benefit from broadband Internet.20 For example, to assess digital readiness for online learning — qualities such as confidence in using computers, facility with new technology, use of digital tools for learning, and the ability to determine the trustworthiness of information — the Pew Research Center surveyed American adults and concluded that 52 percent were relatively hesitant to pursue online learning and 48 percent were relatively more prepared. Among the relatively hesitant, researchers identified a subgroup representing 14 percent of the total that they labeled “the unprepared.” This group had low confidence in their computer skills, needed help using technology, and was unsure about how to find trustworthy information online. Adults most likely to fall into this category were women, those aged 50 and older, those in lower-income households, and those with lower levels of education.21 Similarly, another Pew Research Center survey found that a minority of respondents were not comfortable or confident in their digital job-seeking skills. Excluding those who are disabled or retired, 17 percent reported that it would not be easy to create a résumé, 12 percent said that it would not be easy to find a job, and 12 percent said that it would not be easy to fill out an online job application.22

Van Deursen and Helsper have argued that even if disparities in availability, adoption, and digital literacy did not exist, some populations may still derive fewer benefits from Internet use than others because outcomes are linked to other types of advantage and disadvantage. As they put it, “[e]ven when two users have high-quality autonomous access and adequate skills, they may not obtain the same returns on their Internet use.”23 Consequently, strategies that focus on individual literacy or skills may have only a limited ability to achieve full digital inclusion or level social and economic playing fields.24 Glasmeier et al. add that the nature of the content also matters; to truly close the digital divide, there must be “content that meets the needs of disenfranchised groups and that is created by those groups.”25

Costs of the Divide

As daily activities across nearly all aspects of life become increasingly dependent on the Internet, the costs of being on the wrong side of the digital divide also increase. Those costs are borne by both individuals and society at large.

Economic growth and income. Closing digital gaps promises to expand individual opportunities and increase economic productivity.26 One study estimated that expenditures for Internet access in 2006 (before the proliferation of streaming audio and video) accounted for $28 billion in U.S. gross domestic product.27 The Obama administration argues that “[o]ver the longer term, broadband adoption also fuels a virtuous cycle of Internet innovation.”28 New applications foster demand for greater broadband capacity, which, in turn, encourages more innovative applications. The administration cites industry studies estimating that between 2007 and 2011, mobile applications development grew from nothing to a $20 billion industry that created more than 300,000 new jobs.29 Studies have also found that in some cases, broadband expansion is associated with higher incomes.30 One study reports that in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries, a speed increase of 4 Mbps was associated with a $2,100 gain in household income.31 Based on these findings, it appears likely that a persistent digital divide restricts household income and economic growth.

A clustered bar graph shows percentage of Americans using the Internet at any location by age group in 2007, 2011, and 2015.
Source: National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “Digital Nation Data Explorer” (www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2016/digital-nation-data-explorer). Accessed 28 September 2016.

Health and healthcare. People with high-speed Internet have ready access to medical information and telemedicine, but those without Internet access cannot get answers to basic medical questions at home and therefore must go to a doctor or hospital and incur associated costs.32 Low-income households may also struggle to shop for health insurance or use the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges, and they may not be able to take advantage of virtual healthcare, which can be cheaper than traditional in-person visits.33

Education: The “homework gap.” Increasingly, schoolwork and homework require Internet access to complete, leaving those without broadband access at a disadvantage.34 An estimated 5 million households with school-aged children do not have in-home broadband access. African American and Hispanic households are disproportionately represented among this population; African American and Hispanic households lack broadband access at home at a rate 10 percent higher than white households earning comparable incomes. Among households with school-aged children and an annual income of less than $50,000, 31.4 percent lack in-home broadband.35 Yet an estimated 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access.36 Educators seeking to make the most of innovative online learning tools and prepare students to thrive in an increasingly Internet-dependent society face an impossible challenge. If they assign homework that requires the Internet, they risk placing students without in-home broadband connections at a disadvantage, but if they avoid such assignments, they risk depriving all students of the opportunity to acquire valuable digital skills. Fifty-six percent of educators who teach the lowest-income students say that limited student access to technology is a “major challenge” for incorporating digital tools in their teaching.37 Research shows that broadband access contributes to positive educational outcomes. Dettling et al. find that access to high-speed Internet in one’s junior year of high school is associated with better performance on the SAT and application to a higher number of (and a more expansive selection of) colleges. The effects, however, are concentrated among students of higher socioeconomic status, indicating that broadband access may also exacerbate existing inequalities.38

Employment. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that 54 percent of U.S. adults have gone online to look for job information, and 45 percent have applied for a job online.39 Many job-related tasks are difficult to complete using a mobile device, but 28 percent of Americans have used a smartphone to search for jobs. Half of these people have filled out an application with their smartphone, and 23 percent have created a résumé or cover letter. Of people using their smartphones as part of a job search, nearly half have encountered some type of difficulty doing so, underscoring the continuing importance of fixed connections and computers.40

Civic Participation. People can use the Internet to learn about and connect with local organizations and other residents as well as for various forms of civic engagement.41 A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 39 percent of adults had recently contacted a government official or participated in a public forum offline, and 34 percent had done so online.42

Those with broadband access generally have more options and more information to complete daily tasks, including but not limited to searching for housing, shopping for goods and services, banking, and developing social connections.

Causes of the Divide

The divide in broadband availability, which, as noted above, falls largely along rural and urban lines, results primarily from the absence of adequate infrastructure in rural areas. In many cases, the remote locations and low population densities of rural areas make the extension of infrastructure unprofitable. Although satellite and wireless alternatives offer some promise for expanding broadband access to rural populations, more needs to be done to fully close the availability divide.43

A clustered bar graph shows Internet use 2007, 2011, and 2015 among Americans by educational attainment.
Source: National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “Digital Nation Data Explorer” (www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2016/digital-nation-data-explorer). Accessed 28 September 2016.

Although in some areas the adoption divide results from a lack of availability, the issue generally is a lack of affordability. Unaffordability of broadband, particularly at higher speeds, is affected by both demand-side factors — the ability of a consumer to pay — and supply-side factors — the price at which providers offer service. On the demand side, Internet adoption or use is strongly correlated with income.44 A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that 33 percent of households without a home broadband connection cited monthly subscription costs as the main reason. Another 10 percent said that the cost of a computer was the main reason they did not have an in-home broadband connection.45 On the supply side, the degree of competition among providers in a market affects price and quality. In some areas little to no competition exists, especially at higher speeds. Only 38 percent of the U.S. population has access to more than one provider of fixed connections at 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, and only 13 percent of the rural population has more than one available option.46

Disparities in device ownership also contribute to a digital divide. Those who do not have computers, who have computers that are not capable of connecting to the Internet, or who have computers with low capacity are limited in their ability to take advantage of the Internet. The U.S. Census Bureau found that 83.8 percent of households owned computers in 2013. Computer ownership is lower in the South and in nonmetropolitan areas.47 Some observers consider mobile broadband an avenue for broader inclusion — a way to access the Internet independent of any type of landline infrastructure.48 Others worry that accessing the Internet only through a smartphone limits what users can gain, particularly in important areas such as job seeking or online learning. The Pew Research Center finds that people who are smartphone dependent are more likely to have monthly data limits (or incur extra charges for exceeding limits) and more frequently must cancel or suspend service for financial reasons than do those with landline connections.49 Low-income individuals and minorities are more likely than others to have a handheld device as their only connection to the Internet.50

Finally, some individuals may believe that there are no advantages to using the Internet, or they may be intimidated by technology and simply lack the motivation to adopt broadband service even if they can afford it. Parents who are unconvinced that home Internet access is needed or who believe that handheld devices are sufficient may exacerbate the homework gap, according to Liimatta.51 Seniors make up part of the adoption divide through a lack of interest. A study of seniors in Switzerland finds that the encouragement of family and friends has a strong influence on adoption rates.52

Programs and Strategies To Close the Gap

The persistence of multiple digital divides — in availability, affordability, digital literacy, and connecting devices — means that multiple strategies are necessary to close the gaps. Writing for the Benton Foundation, Colin Rhinesmith proposes a four-part strategy to promote what he calls “meaningful broadband adoption,” which consists of providing low-cost broadband service, connecting digital literacy training with relevant content and services, making low-cost computers available, and operating public-access computing centers.53 Strategies to achieve these steps include promoting competition among providers to improve quality and speed as well as lower prices, educating nonusers about the value of connecting through outreach efforts, and offering subsidies for devices and service, among others.

A line graph shows Internet use by race or ethnicity in the U.S. from 2007 to 2015.
Source: National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “Digital Nation Data Explorer” (www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2016/digital-nation-data-explorer). Accessed 28 September 2016.

At the federal level, policymakers have pushed for investment in infrastructure and are seeking ways to promote competition among broadband service providers, removing existing barriers to competition. Speed and price are correlated with the level of competition in an area, and a statistically significant relationship exists between the number of broadband choices and the share of households using the Internet at home. For example, when Google Fiber announced service in Kansas City, existing network speeds increased 86 percent. Municipal providers have been an important source of competition in areas that would otherwise have severely limited options — in some cases, only one provider. As recently as the beginning of 2015, legal barriers prevented community broadband providers from competing against existing providers in 19 states.54 In February of that year, the FCC ruled to preempt state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevented a community broadband provider and the city of Wilson, respectively, from competing with private providers.55

In addition to promoting competition to improve the affordability and quality of broadband options throughout the country, the federal government has invested in several programs designed to expand broadband access, often with a special emphasis on underserved populations and areas.

  • National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program distributed a total of $4.7 billion over two rounds of grant funding in 2009 and 2010 supporting the development of broadband infrastructure, enhanced capacity at public computer stations, and the sustainable adoption of broadband service.56 The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, which received program funding, has constructed 570 miles of fiber-optic network lines and 59 microwave towers that have made broadband connections available to an estimated 30,000 households in the Navajo Nation.57
  • NTIA’s BroadbandUSA is a program offering online and in-person technical assistance, workshops, and best practices guides for communities seeking to improve their broadband capacity. The Community Connectivity Initiative component of the program will establish a set of connectivity indicators that will help communities assess existing capacity and plan for enhancements. In September 2016, NTIA hosted a broadband workshop in Missoula, Montana, to bring together stakeholders and discuss strategies and best practices; these are now packaged in a toolkit for effective outreach and engagement.58
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Initiative Program has awarded $3.5 billion in loans and grants for 320 projects to deploy broadband infrastructure in rural areas; 297 of these projects provided service directly to end users. The projects resulted in an estimated 61,047 miles of fiber installed, 1,391 wireless access points installed, and 728,733 subscribers receiving new or improved service.59 Program loans supported Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative’s Fiber to the Home expansion, which enhanced broadband service to residents in rural Kentucky.60
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s ConnectED is an Obama administration initiative announced in 2013 with the goal of connecting 99 percent of students with high-speed Internet access (at least 100 Mbps) in classrooms by 2018; the initiative also invests in training for teachers to use technology in classrooms and encourages students and educators to make use of private-sector innovations in educational devices and software.61 An associated initiative, the ConnectED Library Challenge, creates partnerships among schools, libraries, and local governments to ensure that every child enrolled in school has a library card with access to the library’s broadband and wireless service as well as digital resources such as ebooks.62 As of June 2015, public- and private-sector partners had provided or pledged more than $10 billion in funding and in-kind commitments for the program, and more than 1,900 school superintendents had committed to investing in digital education in their districts.63
  • FCC’s ConnectALL is a proposed repurposing of the Lifeline phone subsidy program to subsidize broadband services for low-income individuals. The effort seeks to connect 20 million individuals to broadband by 2020. In addition, the Computers for Learning program will make surplus government computer equipment available to low-income individuals.64

A woman stands on the steps of an RV that functions as a mobile computer lab.
Marsha Robinson, resident of Forest Houses, received her college degree using the Digital Van computers. Leticia Barboza/New York City Housing Authority

For its part, HUD has worked to close the digital divide through the ConnectHome program, a public-private collaboration to bring free or low-cost broadband service to families with school-aged children living in HUD-assisted housing. Announced in 2015, ConnectHome has launched in 27 cities and 1 Tribal nation, with the intention of eventually scaling up to HUD-assisted housing communities nationwide.65 Local stakeholders work out the precise details of implementation in each locality, tailoring the arrangement to local circumstances. AT&T, Comcast, Cox Communications, and Google Fiber are among the providers who have participated in local partnerships. Former ConnectHome manager Michael Liimatta says that private providers have come to see that offering low-income plans in public housing communities is both good publicity and good business, helping to build brand loyalty. He notes that some areas that just a few years ago had no low-income plans or just one now have multiple providers offering affordable plans.66

To measure progress, the ConnectHome initiative tracks the numbers of households that have gained high-speed Internet, including those with school-aged children, digital literacy programs, and devices donated. ConnectHome initiative director Rei Onishi says that while there can be challenges getting the word out to residents about low-cost offers available in their communities, adoption rates have been highest where public housing agencies (PHAs) have been most proactive. Outreach activities, such as community sign-up events and providing free devices to households that sign up for broadband, have been effective. Onishi notes that another promising outreach practice, as exemplified by the Rockford (Illinois) Housing Authority, is to integrate broadband into the conversations that residential services coordinators have with residents about other services.67

Thus far, ConnectHome has worked with PHAs and residents of public housing communities but is looking for ways to reach HUD-assisted households using rental vouchers. One of the ConnectHome partners, Comcast, has recently expanded its Internet Essentials low-cost, high-speed Internet service for low-income households, working with HUD to make the program available to an estimated 2 million HUD-assisted homes, including housing choice voucher recipients. Internet Essentials offers service at $9.95 per month, an option to purchase a low-cost computer, and free digital literacy training through various formats.68

HUD has also proposed a rule that would require installing broadband infrastructure in newly constructed or substantially rehabilitated multifamily rental housing that is funded or supported by HUD programs. The rule would not apply to multifamily rental housing that has a mortgage guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration but no funding from another HUD program. The rule defines broadband infrastructure as cable, fiber optic, wiring, wireless, or other permanent infrastructure that provides a connection to each residential unit at the FCC minimum standard of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Most private-market multifamily developers include landline wiring and jacks at the standards required by the rule; this regulation would simply make that practice standard in HUD-assisted housing as well. Developers are responsible only for the infrastructure, not for connecting residences with an Internet service provider.69

A group of men and women pose for the camera holding Chromebooks inside a library.
Tech Goes Home Chattanooga is a digital inclusion program that offers digital literacy classes at schools, libraries, churches, and youth and family development centers across Hamilton County, Tennessee. Participants who graduate from the classes can purchase a new Chromebook for $50. Tech Goes Home Chattanooga

At the state level, California offers points for in-unit broadband when awarding low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs). For example, Cottonwood Place in Freemont, California, a development funded by LIHTCs as well as HUD’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, provides each of its 98 units with wired broadband access and a modem.70 The developer, Eden Housing, offers low-cost options for those interested in buying a device through its Communities Wired! initiative. Residents may purchase a laptop for $120 and a tablet for $75 and receive tutorials on how to access their Internet connection.71 Digital literacy courses help low-income seniors build the confidence to use the technology.72 Despite these gains in bridging the digital divide for low-income seniors, two challenges remain for residents of Cottonwood Place. First, seniors must continue to update their devices and software to keep pace with rapid technological advances. Second, the free bandwidth that Eden Housing provides does not support streaming media.73

Finally, at the local level, many municipalities, nonprofits, and foundations as well as private entities are working to expand broadband access, often in cross-sector partnerships and with state and federal governments. Municipal broadband providers in Cedar Falls, Iowa; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and other locations have expanded access and have also added competition to improve price and quality among private-sector providers in their cities. Local nonprofits such as PCs for People in St. Paul, Minnesota, tackle the digital divide through various strategies. PCs for People recycles computers — refurbishing them and making them available to low-income households — and offers low-cost, high-speed Internet to eligible households.74 Three additional examples of local efforts are featured in “Working to Bridge the Digital Divide.”

Conclusion

Divides in broadband availability, broadband adoption, digital literacy, outcomes associated with Internet use, and the creation of digital content remain, even as digital access and proficiency become essential for competitiveness in nearly every aspect of life. Substantial progress has been made to close these divides, but the gaps that remain may be especially stubborn and difficult to erase. Liimatta says that progress is likely to be slow and will take considerable resources in the form of money (both public and private) and “boots on the ground” — people reaching out to and working directly with nonusers, convincing them of the value of connecting, walking them through every step of the connection process, and then teaching these newly connected users how to make the most of their Internet access.75 Continuing progress will depend on the work of many partners: Internet service providers, municipal governments, libraries, schools, and nonprofits. As the experience of ConnectHome has shown, PHAs will also play an important role in expanding access to low-income households. Closing the remaining digital divides promises to open up new opportunities for individuals and promote economic growth for society at large.



  1. The White House. 2015. “Remarks by the President on Promoting Community Broadband.”
  2. Executive Office of the President. 2015. “Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access,” 5.
  3. United States Federal Communications Commission. 2015. “Broadband Progress Report and Notice of Inquiry on Immediate Action to Accelerate Deployment,” 3.
  4. Council of Economic Advisers. 2016. “The Digital Divide and Economic Benefits of Broadband Access,” Council of Economic Advisers Issue Brief, 1.
  5. Based on Form 477 filings. U.S. Federal Communications Commission. 2016. “Internet Access Services Status as of June 30, 2015,” 2.
  6. Ibid., 3.
  7. National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “Industry Data” (www.ncta.com/industry-data). Accessed 31 August 2016.
  8. U.S. Federal Communications Commission. “Types of Broadband Connections” (www.fcc.gov/general/types-broadband-connections). Accessed 31 August 2016.
  9. U.S. Federal Communications Commission 2016, 23.
  10. U.S. Federal Communications Commission. 2016. “Broadband Progress Report,” 34.
  11. Ibid., 39.
  12. Ibid., 36–7.
  13. Ibid., 40.
  14. Interview with Michael Liimatta, 23 September 2016.
  15. John B. Morris, Jr. 2016. “First Look: Internet Use in 2015,” National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 21 March blog post.
  16. National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “Digital Nation Data Explorer” (www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2016/digital-nation-data-explorer). Accessed 16 November 2016; U.S. Federal Communications Commission. 2015. “Broadband Availability in America: With Rural Americans Looking for High-Speed Services, Adequate Broadband Speeds Remain Out of Reach for Many.”
  17. Council of Economic Advisers, 3.
  18. Field Research Corporation. 2015. “Wide Differences in Broadband Connectivity Across California Households,” California Emerging Technology Fund, 5.
  19. Andrew Perrin and Maeve Duggan. 2015. Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015: As internet use nears saturation for some groups, a look at patterns of adoption, Pew Research Center, 10.
  20. American Library Association. “Digital Literacy Definition” (connect.ala.org/node/181197). Accessed 29 September 2016.
  21. John B. Horrigan. 2016. “Digital Readiness Gaps: Americans fall along a spectrum of preparedness when it comes to using tech tools to pursue learning online, and many are not eager or ready to take the plunge,” Pew Research Center, 3.
  22. Aaron Smith. 2015. “Searching for Work in the Digital Era,” Pew Research Center.
  23. Alexander J.A.M. Van Deursen and Ellen J. Helsper. 2015. “The Third-Level Digital Divide: Who Benefits Most from Being Online?” Communication and Information Technologies Annual 10, 32.
  24. I. Mariën and J.A. Prodnik. 2014. “Digital inclusion and user (dis)empowerment: A critical perspective,” info: The Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications, Information and Media 16:6, 35.
  25. Amy K. Glasmeier, Chris Benner, Chandrani Ohdedar, and Lee Carpenter. 2007. “Beyond the Digital Divide: Broadband Internet Use and Rural Development in Pennsylvania,” Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 6.
  26. Council of Economic Advisers, 1; 5.
  27. Shane Greenstein and Ryan C. McDevitt. 2009. “The Broadband Bonus: Accounting for Broadband Internet’s Impact on U.S. GDP,” NBER Working Paper No. 14758. Cited in Executive Office of the President. 2015. “Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access,” 5.
  28. Executive Office of the President, 6.
  29. Michael Mandel. 2012. “Where the Jobs Are: The App Economy,” February 2. Cited in Executive Office of the President. 2015. “Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access,” 6.
  30. Paul DiMaggio and Bart Bonikowski. 2008. “Make Money Surfing the Web? The Impact of Internet Use on the Earnings of US Workers,” American Sociological Review 73:2; Jed Kolko. 2012. “Broadband and Local Growth,” Journal of Urban Economics 7:1; Brian Whitacre, Roberto Gallardo, and Sharon Strover. 2014. “Broadband’s Contribution to Economic Growth in Rural Areas: Moving Towards a Causal Relationship,” Telecommunications Policy 38:11; Chris Forman, Avi Goldfarb, and Shane Greenstein. 2012. “The Internet and Local Wages: A Puzzle,” American Economic Review 102:1.
  31. Ericsson. 2013. “Measuring the Impact of Broadband on Income”; Forman et al., 556–7.
  32. Steven Haderlie and Danny Weiss. 2015. “The Benefits of Broadband Expansion to America’s Economy, Education, and Health,” A Policy Brief by Common Sense Kids Action, 4–5.
  33. Ibid.
  34. John B. Horrigan. 2015. “The Numbers Behind the Broadband ‘Homework Gap.’”
  35. Ibid.
  36. Haderlie and Weiss, 3–4.
  37. Kristen Purcell, Alan Heaps, Judy Buchanan, and Linda Friedrich. 2013. “How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms,” Pew Research Center, 4.
  38. Lisa J Dettling, Sarena F. Goodman, and Jonathan Smith. 2015. “Every Little Bit Counts: The Impact of High-speed Internet on the Transition to College,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-108. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1.
  39. Smith, 2.
  40. Smith, 3–4.
  41. Michael J. Stern and Alison E. Adams. 2010. “Do Rural Residents Really Use the Internet to Build Social Capital? An Empirical Investigation,” American Behavioral Scientist 53:9, 1389–90.
  42. Aaron Smith. 2013. “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age,” Pew Research Center.
  43. Executive Office of the President, 9.
  44. Ibid.
  45. John B. Horrigan and Maeve Duggan. 2015. “Home Broadband 2015: The share of Americans with broadband at home has plateaued, and more rely only on their smartphones for online access,” Pew Research Center, 4.
  46. U.S. Federal Communications Commission. 2016. “Broadband Progress Report,” 38.
  47. Thom File and Camille Ryan. 2014. “Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2013,” American Community Survey Reports, United States Census Bureau, 1–2.
  48. James Prieger. 2013. “The Broadband Digital Divide and the Benefits of Mobile Broadband for Minorities,” Pepperdine University, School of Public Policy Working Papers, Paper 45.
  49. Horrigan and Duggan, 3.
  50. File and Ryan, 7.
  51. Michael Liimatta. 2016. “Bridging The Digital Divide: Not Every Low Income Family Is The Same,” National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
  52. Thomas N. Friemel. 2014. “The digital divide has grown old: Determinants of a digital divide among seniors,” New Media & Society, 1.
  53. Colin Rhinesmith. “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives,” Evanston, IL: Benton Foundation, January 2016.
  54. Council of Economic Advisers, 5; Executive Office of the President.
  55. U.S. Federal Communications Commission. 2015. “FCC Grants Petitions to Preempt State Laws Restricting Community Broadband in North Carolina, Tennessee.”
  56. National Telecommunications and Information Administration. 2010. “Broadband Technology Opportunities Program: Notice of Funds Availability for Second Round — Fact Sheet.”
  57. National Telecommunications and Information Administration. 2011. “Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.”
  58. Doug Kinkoph. 2016. “New NTIA Guide Outlines Strategies, Best Practices for Effective Broadband Stakeholder Outreach,” National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
  59. Colin Rhinesmith. “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives,” Evanston, IL: Benton Foundation, January 2016.
  60. Brian Lazenby. 2014. “PRTC’s Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Update”; Lisa Mensah. 2015. “Keeping our Promise in Kentucky.”
  61. White House. n.d. “ConnectED: President Obama’s Plan for Connecting All Schools to the Digital Age.”
  62. “ConnectED Initiative,” The White House website (www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/k-12/connected). Accessed 26 September 2016.
  63. The White House. 2015. “Fact Sheet: ConnectEd: Two Years of Delivering Opportunity to K-12 Schools & Libraries,” 25 June press release. Accessed 26 September 2016.
  64. White House. 2016. “Fact Sheet: President Obama Announces ConnectAll Initiative,” 9 March press release.
  65. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2016. “ConnectHome.”
  66. Interview with Michael Liimatta.
  67. Interview with Rei Onishi, 28 September 2016.
  68. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2016. “Comcast and The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Collaborate to Close the Digital Divide for Up to 2 Million HUD-Assisted Households in Major Internet Essentials Program Expansion.”
  69. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Narrowing the Digital Divide Through Installation of Broadband Infrastructure in HUD-Funded New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation of Multifamily Rental Housing,” Federal Register 81:96, 31181–3.
  70. Mindy Ault. 2015. “Eden Housing’s Cottonwood Place,” National Housing Conference.
  71. Ibid.
  72. Ibid.
  73. Ibid.
  74. PCs for People. “What We Do” (www.pcsforpeople.com/about-us/what-we-do). Accessed 29 September 2016.
  75. Interview with Michael Liimatta.

 

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