The “Digital Divide” persists, despite huge improvements in the capacity and affordability of computers and mobile devices. Low-income consumers increasingly have smart phone technology few could have imagined back in the early 2000s when the term had its heyday (in fact, Latino households, are the largest users of smart phones in California), yet they often lack wi-fi at home and a laptop or desktop computer.
As many as 4 in 10 households in low-income communities still lack broadband access, though the overall rate of broadband adoption statewide is improving. These communities correlate with low-income, largely the same neighbhorhoods our Real Cost Measure study identified, as shown on these below:
At a meeting with California Emerging Technology Fund and several of our broadband adoption grantees last week, USC presented recently published research on broadband adoption, with a focus on LA County. This map showing huge swaths of LA county have only one provider of wired access to broadband is particularly interesting.
Worse yet, perhaps, those low-income families that do have broadband access pay far too much for it. In results of a text survey we conducted this spring of low-income households, we found that very low income households earning $15,000 or below often pay as much as $60 or $80 a month for it.
The good news is that there are many more affordable broadband offers available to low-income families today.
Trying to close this digital divide is UWCA has been working to connect low-income Californians to high-speed Internet access since 2010, in partnership with the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and other colleague organizations. In that time, California has made great strides, but there is still a long way to go.
When we started this work in 2010, there was no Comcast Internet Essentials program, AT&T had yet to release it’s low-cost offer for low-income households, there was no Frontier or Spectrum low-cost offer.
These programs won’t be available forever, they are time-limited. Also, to be clear, these programs largely were the result of regulation, of the FCC requiring or incentivizing companies to develop programs for low-income households as a condition of approving mergers and acquisitions.
Unfortunately, there may be more bad news on the horizon. In light of the FCC’s scheduled vote this Thursday to repeal its Net Neutrality rules, we are concerned that the quality of broadband access through such affordable plans may decrease sharply, and also that low-income households will be under significant pressure to pay more, to dip further into their pockets for higher speeds.