Low-income areas are more likely to lack Internet access, new data shows. According to a recent study from the City of Seattle, Americans living in low-income communities are five to seven times more likely than working-class households to not have access to the Internet.
Researchers found that approximately 99% of U.S. households that make $50,000 or more a year have adequate Internet access. But that percentage dropped to 79% for households making $25,000 or less annually.
Up to 57% of participants without Internet access said Internet service was too expensive. Another 34% said Internet service was too slow, frustrating, or doesn’t work well. And, finally, 26% said their service plans from Internet providers were too confusing to keep.
“We know that access to technology is a race and social justice issue,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We must strive to make sure that our communities have access to high-speed Internet and the skills they need to compete in our constantly-connected world.”
Nine out of every 10 American adults use the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center, and the average U.S. customer spends $1,800 a year on e-commerce transactions. But the Internet is used for more than just shopping.
The top two Internet activities may be search and email, but there is also a world of education and job opportunities online.
The Internet streamlines access to information and makes it easier for people to engage in online learning. Americans can access job websites and long-distance education programs that make it easier for students to attend classes remotely and cut down on the resources required for education.
What’s more, the Internet itself provides jobs for many Americans. Up to 31% of IT services have been outsourced and some 58% of businesses are worried about cyber attacks.
Without adequate Internet access, Americans living in low-income households have fewer job opportunities and education opportunities available to them. So how can we fix this issue?
Durkan suggests improving access to free public Wi-Fi at community centers, circulating Internet hotspots, and equipping tiny house villages with Internet access. Other solutions include a municipal broadband network and a state broadband office, which was recently proposed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee.
But the Internet gap isn’t just a problem for Seattle. All states in the U.S. suffer from a growing urban-rural digital divide.
One new study from the University of South Dakota and Virginia’s Old Dominion University found that rural networks have insufficient Internet coverage, capacity, and speed for basic health, safety, and quality of life.
“The most intriguing finding was, if you look at mobile coverage maps, providers would say the entire state is covered,” said Bob McNab, lead author of the study and director of Old Dominion’s Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. “But what we found was the facts on the ground are dramatically different for rural consumers compared with urban consumers.”
Bringing high-speed Internet to every area in the state is a national issue. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently set up a $600 million grant and loan programs for Internet service providers. The grant is meant to encourage providers to service rural areas and other spots where the Internet can be more expensive.