Current Federal Programs Still Leave a Digital Divide

WASHINGTON — Despite progress, current federal government programs, including the FCC’s Universal Service Fund and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service program, have not yet completed the work of closing the digital divide.

This is according to a new report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. The report, "America's Digital Divide, September 2017," calls for prioritizing rural broadband expansion in any national comprehensive infrastructure plan that will be debated in the 115th Congress.

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The Urban-Rural Divide
Access is at its worst in rural America where only 61 percent have access to broadband internet.

Barriers to Broadband
Most internet infrastructure in the United States is privately owned and operated. Because of this, whether or not broadband is extended to a particular community is typically a result of a simple calculation: whether the company installing facilities to provide internet service is able to generate enough revenue on internet subscriptions to cover their upfront costs and earn a profit. This calculation tends to favor investment in urban and suburban areas, where people are tightly clustered.

Disparities in Access Across Households
Even where broadband is available, disparities in adoption persist across households. The report isolates sharp divides based on income, age, and race as well as lack of interest due to insufficient computer knowledge.

Congressional Action
The report concludes that Congress must prioritize rural broadband expansion in any national comprehensive infrastructure plan debated in the 115th Congress. It is unrealistic to expect the private sector to fully bear the costs of building out broadband infrastructure to many areas of the country where the cost calculation does not make sense for them. Congress must close this gap by taking on a portion of those costs. The 2010 National Broadband Plan estimated that $24 billion of federal investment is necessary to bring all of rural America up to an adequate level of broadband service.


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