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COVID-19 Crisis Reveals Broadband Inequity

A new index from the Institute for Southern Studies gives the numbers behind the connectivity inequality.

Eight-year-old Indi Pineau, a 3rd grader in Jeffco Public Schools, works on doing her first day of online learning in her room at her family's home on March 17, 2020 in Lakewood, Colorado.

Eight-year-old Indi Pineau, a 3rd grader in Jeffco Public Schools, works on doing her first day of online learning in her room at her family's home on March 17, 2020 in Lakewood, Colorado. Jeffco Public Schools implemented a remote learning and work plan where teachers, students, and staff will educate and learn from home with online programs for an unknown period due to COVID-19. (Photo: RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Number of Americans that the Federal Communications Commission says lack access to high-speed internet service, a number it calculates by using self-reported data from providers: 21 million

Percent of U.S. residents in urban areas who lack access to high-speed internet, according to the FCC: 2

Percent in rural communities: about 25

According to a recent report from the company Broadband Now, number by which the FCC may be lowballing its broadband access estimates, with rural areas particularly likely to be miscounted: 20 million 

Percent by which the FCC may be over-reporting broadband coverage in Arkansas, a state that’s 44 percent rural: 23

Percent by which it may be over-reporting coverage in Mississippi, a state that’s more than one-half rural: 20

Number of people by which the FCC may be overestimating broadband coverage in North Carolina, a heavily rural state that consequently has turned to other sources of information to figure out which communities are most in need: 500,000

Number of households in a census block that need to have access to high-speed internet service for providers to claim they serve the entire population of that census block: 1

Factor by which families in poor areas in the U.S. are more likely to lack access to high-speed broadband than the wealthiest households: almost 5

Percent-average broadband adoption rate in a typical majority-white U.S. census tract: 83.7

Adoption rate in the average census tract where African Americans make up more than 50 percent of residents: 67.4

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Rank of the South among  U.S. regions with the lowest rate of broadband adoption: 1

Portion of Americans who live in low-subscription neighborhoods, meaning that broadband is available but fewer than 40 percent of households are connected: nearly 1/4

States in the South have some of the country's lowest rates of broadband adoption, which is making life more difficult for people who have to work or study at home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (Map from the Brookings Institution.)Rank of price among the biggest barriers to connecting to available broadband: 1

The average monthly broadband internet bill in the U.S.: $65.14

According to one study, percent broadband prices would have to come down for subscriptions to increase by just 10 percent: about 15

As some communities consider publicly-owned broadband to increase access and affordability, number of states that have passed so-called "preemption laws" banning it or erecting significant roadblocks: 25

Of those 25 states, number in the South: 9*

Amount the telecom industry, which has long lobbied against public broadband, invested in state politics across the country over the past decade: over $174 million

Funding included in the $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed this week to help narrow the so-called "homework gap" between households with internet connections and equipment and those without it: $0

* Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis is the Director and regular contributor to the Institute for Southern Study's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or co-author of five Institute reports, including Faith in the Gulf (Aug/Sept 2008), Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (January 2008) and Blueprint for Gulf Renewal (Aug/Sept 2007). Sue holds a Masters in Journalism from New York University.

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