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BRIDGING THE BROADBAND AFFORDABILITY GAP

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The Broadband Affordability Gap

TWO-THIRDS OF AMERICA'S DIGITAL DIVIDE

Approximately 28.2 million of the 122.8 million households in the United States do not have high-speed broadband. The historical narrative has been that these households are unconnected because they do not have access to high-speed Internet infrastructure. However, the reality is that 18 million of these households, home to 47 million people, are simply offline because they cannot afford an available Internet connection.

7.1M

Households without available broadband infrastructure

3M

Households with available broadband infrastructure that are unconnected for reasons other than a lack of resources

Affordability Gap Pie Chart_No Text

BROADBAND AFFORDABILITY GAP

18.1M

Households with available broadband infrastructure that cannot afford to connect. 

46.9M

Population with available broadband infrastructure that cannot afford to connect. 

21.1M

Households with available broadband infrastructure

Why Are 28.2M of the 122.8M U.S. Households Offline?

LACK OF RESOURCES

64%

of unconnected U.S. households

18.1 M HOUSEHOLDS

are offline because they can’t afford to connect to an available Internet connection – despite the availability of low-cost broadband plans from ISPs. These households make up nearly two-thirds of our nation’s digital divide.

AVAILABILITY OF BROADBAND

25%

of unconnected U.S. households

7.1 M HOUSEHOLDS

are without access to any broadband network. Primarily in rural areas, these are locations where there is insufficient coverage to deliver wired or wireless broadband service, or service speeds and quality are unreliable.

CHOOSING NOT TO CONNECT

11%

of unconnected U.S. households

3 M HOUSEHOLDS

have access to available broadband networks and can afford to connect but are offline for reasons other than a lack of resources. The reasons cited commonly include digital literacy, reliance on smartphones, access options outside the home, and concerns about privacy or going online.

Causes & Impact

LARGEST PORTION OF THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN 43 STATES

The broadband affordability gap is present in every state and impacts virtually every community in America – urban, suburban, and small-town. It disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx Americans and those with less than a high school education. It also makes up 58% of the digital divide in states with rural populations that exceed the national average.

Concentrated in our poorest communities

Households Below 200% Poverty Threshold

Unconnected Communities
0%
National
Average
0%

Disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx communities

% Population

Unconnected Communities
0%

Black

National
Average
0%

Black

Unconnected Communities
0%

LatinX

National
Average
0%

LatinX

Black

LatinX

Evan Marwell

Affordability has now emerged as the number one barrier to closing the digital divide. We have a historic opportunity to close two-thirds of the digital divide by connecting 18 million households that have access to the Internet but can't afford to connect.

Evan Marwell, Founder and CEO, EducationSuperHighway Tweet

Seizing the Moment

A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY

The federal government has recognized the need to address the affordability gap by investing $20 billion in the nation’s largest-ever broadband affordability and adoption program. Partnerships between non-profits, community-based organizations, Internet Service Providers, and state and local governments have developed game-changing approaches to identifying unconnected households, innovative solutions to increasing adoption, and the creation of programs that eliminate the need for households to sign-up for broadband service altogether, providing a blueprint for a broad public-private partnership to close the broadband affordability gap.

In 2019, the Lifeline program participation rate was 24%. In October 2021, Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit participation rate was 17%-25%.

Pre Pandemic
0%
Current
As few as
0%

Lifeline & Emergency Broadband Benefit Participation Rate

Federal Broadband Programs

PREVIOUS EFFORTS HAVE FALLEN SHORT

Despite the pandemic, there has been little change in the adoption of federal broadband affordability programs. As few as 17% of Americans eligible for federal broadband affordability programs have enrolled due to awareness, trust, and enrollment barriers.

Three Key Barriers

OVERCOMING BARRIERS

Congress is doing its part by making the resources available to close the affordability gap, and ISPs continue to increase the availability and speed of affordable broadband plans. We must now remove the barriers that keep low-income families from connecting or risk wasting this opportunity to leave No Home Left Offline

Three key barriers stand in the way of widespread broadband adoption for households on the wrong side of the affordability gap. In order to ensure that Congress’ investment in closing the broadband affordability gap is a success, we must overcome three key barriers to broadband adoption: 

Barrier #1

Action_Values Icon

AWARENESS

Most unconnected households are unaware of the Emergency Broadband Benefit and how it can help them get connected. A recent national survey of low- and lower-middle income households found that only 25% had heard of the program.

Barrier #2

Trust Icon

TRUST

Many unconnected households are concerned about sharing personal information as part of the sign-up process and are skeptical the Emergency Broadband Benefit will actually cover the cost of their home broadband connection.

Barrier #3

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ENROLLMENT CHALLENGES

Signing up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit and ISP low-cost broadband programs can be confusing, requiring households to provide documentation of their income status that many cannot easily access.

Closing the Gap

STRATEGIES AND BLUEPRINTS FOR SUCCESS

America’s efforts to close the affordability gap have highlighted the challenges we must overcome to connect low-income households. They have also provided a blueprint for the work we must now undertake as a nation to ensure that Congress’ historic investment in closing the digital divide leaves No Home Left Offline

Strategy #1

Data Icon

Leverage data to identify unconnected households

Collect broadband adoption data at the address level to target outreach and adoption efforts and track progress.

Strategy #2

House with Wi-Fi Icon

Launch broadband adoption programs

Help ISPs sign up eligible households for federal broadband programs and home broadband service.

Strategy #3

Report Icon

Deploy free Wi-Fi to low-income apartment buildings

Eliminate the need for households to sign-up for broadband service altogether.

Roadmaps

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS

President Biden has set the goal of ensuring “every American has access to high quality, affordable high-speed Internet.” Congress has already made a down payment toward providing the resources needed to close the broadband affordability gap and is poised to dramatically increase its investment. To ensure no home is left offline, we need the bold leadership of a public-private partnership to remove the barriers that keep low-income families on the wrong side of the digital divide.

ACTION PLANS

Federal Policymakers

State Leaders

City & County Leaders

Internet Service Providers

Housing Authorities
& Building Owners

School Districts

Community Health
Centers

Community-Based Organizations

Corporations

WE MUST SEIZE THE

MOMENT

We’re building a public-private partnership to close the broadband affordability gap.

Download the full report to learn more.

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