Broadband barriers for low-income households

In a report that seems to both accompany and build upon the recently released FCC broadband adoption report, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) released results of a study that reports on the status of broadband in low-income communities.

The SSRC found that while a national numbers indicate that 65 percent of Americans have broadband access, 65 percent of Americans in living in households with incomes below $25,000 don’t have access. It’s a complete reversal. SSRC interviewed 170 non-users and found the following:

At the broadest level, it finds that:

  • Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it—and residents of low-income communities know this.
  • Price is only one factor shaping the fragile equilibrium of home broadband adoption, and price pressures go beyond the obvious challenge of high monthly fees. Hardware costs, hidden fees, billing transparency, quality of service, and availability are major issues for low-income communities.
  • Libraries and other community organizations fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand, and provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These support organizations are under severe pressure to meet community connectivity needs, leading to widespread perceptions of a crisis in the provider community.

I find the first remark most striking. Broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. I think of the time and money I save having broadband. I find the cheapest fares, I make free long distance phone calls, I connect with friends and family on social networking sites, I no longer develop photos, I post them online. I get (and sometimes follow) medical advice, helping us avoid doctor visits and sick time. We look up homework answer and get extra work when we need it (cheaper than a tutor, quicker than the library). Stamps – my stamp budget is almost non-existent.

But I am in a position to realize the time and cost savings. I think of it like a car or the old commercial, “You can me now or you can pay me later”. Dialup or no access is not cheaper than broadband – in the same way a junker is not cheaper than a reliable car. The difference is you have to have enough money to budget for a decent car or broadband and low income households often don’t have that luxury. So they use the library – and hope that they can finish the job application in 30 minutes or lose their work. And sometimes it works out – and sometimes they lose the opportunity that was much more valuable than the month cost of broadband (or a computer). To me that is how broadband access is a requirement of socio-economic inclusion.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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