The Surprising Lack of Internet Access in the United States
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For many people in the United States, wide access to internet is something we take for granted. Between homes, cafes, and libraries, it seems like a given to be able to connect your smartphone or laptop to a Wi-fi connection. However, that isn’t the case for a surprisingly high amount of the population. In the current era of remote work and schooling, this disparity in internet access becomes more apparent and can lead to long-term issues.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than 21 million people in the United States do not have access to broadband internet, which is fast, reliable internet with a certain amount of upload and download speeds (Pew Research). Microsoft puts the number estimate drastically higher, with 163 million people without access to broadband internet. According to Pew Research’s study, 30% of rural Americans, 40% of schools, and 60% of healthcare institutions lack broadband connections. There also seems to be a connection between lack of internet connection and income level, as roughly one-third of households that have an income of under $30,000 do not have a high-speed internet connection at home (Pew Research).
Internet access has become more of a utility than ever, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. As schools and workplaces move to the digital universe, this kind of digital divide becomes more pronounced. In the case of teenagers, a Pew Research survey says that 12% of teenagers at least sometimes need to use a public place with WiFi to do homework because their home does not have a reliable internet connection (Pew Research). Grade school children were not surveyed, but it would make sense that the metric is relatively similar. For rural areas, lacking access to the internet can prove to be extremely harmful to the growth and sustainability of the town (Pew). Without reliable internet access, towns lose a competitive edge, and employers pass on moving into their towns. Before long, families begin to move away, and the town is condemned to decay.
One of the largest barriers to amending the internet access problem is cost. It takes a large amount of investment to put a network in place, and if the interest or predicted service is not up to sufficiency, then they will likely pass on building a new network. To help combat this, states and towns have been working with private and public entities to bring broadband connectivity to more sparsely populated cities. Local internet service providers have also begun to pop up to provide broadband access to their local areas where larger companies may have passed them by (Pew). In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called internet service providers to waive late fees and to not cut off internet service to people who couldn’t pay their bills. This is a sign that the internet’s importance in daily life has reached the level of a necessity (The Markup).
In the 21st century, internet access has become a necessity. Whether it’s to do homework or get other necessary things done, families who do not have access at home are working at a stark disadvantage, and rural and low-income families have been hit the hardest. Luckily, though different broadband initiatives, hopefully, internet access can become more widespread and the digital divide can be closed.