Broadband access is necessary but not sufficient to expand use in some urban area

Earlier today I wrote about how rural Minnesota was missing out on telehealth benefits because of lack of broadband. And now here to report that they aren’t the only ones. Recent research indicates there are pockets in urban areas that are also underserved – based on racial/ethnic and income disparities…

As an emerging social determinant, broadband access impacts health across the life course, affecting students’ ability to learn and adults’ ability to find and retain jobs. Resolving lack of broadband access remains an urban priority. City policymakers can harness recent infrastructure funding opportunities to reduce broadband access disparities.

The article recognizes that access is better in urban areas than rural and suggests that help is on the way…

In the 2021 infrastructure bill, $65 billion dollars were allocated to build broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas, a step that should help to ameliorate infrastructure barriers to broadband connection.

Unfortunately, $65 billion may not get everyone covered but this article is focused on other reasons folks don’t have broadband at home…

Broadband gaps in cities are largely influenced by lack of affordability, disparities in digital literacy, and difficulties accessing broadband among populations with lower educational attainment and language barriers.5,14 Previous research has also found evidence of profit-based discrimination in service delivery contributing to racial and geographic disparities in broadband access.9 These factors suggest that infrastructure improvements alone may not be sufficient to eliminate disparities in broadband access for urban households.

Here are some of their conclusions, worth consideration for rural and urban areas looking to create a digital equity plan for their community. Access is necessary but not always sufficient to expanding broadband use…

Four key findings emerged from our analysis of broadband access in US cities. First, in 2021, about a quarter of households in the 905 largest US cities did not have broadband access at home. Second, households in low-income neighborhoods were less likely to have broadband access compared with households in high-income neighborhoods. Third, predominantly minority neighborhoods had lower broadband access compared to White and no majority neighborhoods, regardless of income level. Our findings confirm patterns previously published by the PEW Research Center and others using smaller surveys or a more limited geographic focus.5,9,21 Fourth, although broadband access increased only modestly between 2017 and 2021, we documented that improvements were larger in low-income and minority-predominant neighborhoods and had the effect of modestly reducing racial/ethnic and income broadband access disparities. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first article to comprehensively examine broadband access of city neighborhoods at national level.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Research 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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