Digital Equity: Addressing the Digital Divide

By Laurence Williams | May 21,  2021


Broadband Isn’t  a Luxury

We are increasingly reliant on the internet for everything from work to school and doctors appointments. The digital divide was laid bare during the pandemic, and it should be resolved as part of rebuilding the economy.

Investing in Infrastructure

With so much federal stimulus in the economy, it’s time for Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to work together to improve broadband infrastructure and modernize the way we talk about it.

What’s the  Hold Up?

The problem is that the FCC – and the outdated ways in which they monitor and categorize broadband access and speeds – holds us back.

Internet Speeds

How the FCC defines high-speed internet hasn’t changed in years: 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Realistic quality speeds in 2021 are likely 4x that (100 Mbps down and up).

FCC Mapping

Broadband access is measured by “census block.” If one person in an area has broadband access, every household in the area is counted as having access. This misrepresents the reality of internet access across the U.S.

Fiber Optic

The FCC overreported that gigabit availability launched from 4% in 2016 to 84% in 2020. Research firm BroadbandNow checked 75 addresses where the FCC showed gigabit coverage. In all cases, ISPs for the area didn’t offer gigabit service.

Think of the Children

Internet access during the pandemic determined the learning outcomes of children.  This disproportionately affected students in  low-income communities.

Equitable Solutions

Disparities in internet access are especially prominent in rural areas and low-income communities with disproportionately black and minority populations.

A New Administration

FCC Acting Chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, has created a Broadband Data Task Force to orchestrate what amounts to a census on internet speed and access across the country.

$15 Broadband

Many states aren’t waiting to move on broadband access. After receiving federal stimulus, some states are using the money to improve internet access now.

New York  Gets Ahead

NY State passed a law requiring ISPs to provide affordable broadband to low-income households, capping regular broadband at $15 and high-speed at $20. This impacts over 7 million people across the state.

Broadband as  a Utility

The pandemic forced many households running simultaneous streams to compete for broadband. Now there’s growing demand to treat broadband as a utility, like water and electricity.

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality regulations, put in place by the Obama administration to ensure ISPs “treat all traffic equally” were repealed in 2018 by then FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai.

Making Matters Worse

If access, speeds and costs are no longer regulated, it will become easier for internet access to perpetuate the inequalities in our society.

Back and Forth

FCC Chairwoman, Rosenworcel, advocates for net neutrality, but reinstating neutrality rules will mean a vote within the FCC that could be overturned by future administrations. Politicking is a hurdle towards consistent improvements.

What Next?

Rosenworcel is using events of 2020 to build momentum for better broadband. It’s unknown if broadband infrastructure will make it through both houses of Congress, but it’s now  much easier to have a conversation about digital equity.

The Future  Is Digital

One thing’s for sure, a digital future is guaranteed. Even The Federal Reserve is discussing the future of a digital U.S. currency. So, what’s the status of your digital presence, and are you ready for the digital future?