Today, you opened this article. Perhaps on your smartphone, laptop, or tablet. It’s probably connected to WiFi or using cellular data. Did you have to think about your connection to the internet? If you didn’t, consider yourself lucky.
A 2021 Federal Communications Commission Report found that nearly 21.3 million Americans do not have the ability to purchase broadband internet. A third-party evaluation of the data estimated that number to be closer to 42 million. Unfortunately, these disparities disproportionally affect people of color, lower incomes, and lower educational levels. A PEW Research Center study in 2015, found that only 54% of African American households and 50% of Hispanic households had access to reliable broadband.
Here in Connecticut, 321,000 households, approximately 23%, lack high-speed internet at home. This includes over 110,000 children under the age of 17. With shifts to digital classrooms and remote learning, this actively hinders their education, leading to absenteeism and poor graduation rates. The global shutdowns related to COVID-19 only highlighted these disparities. Many children were set up for failure as schools shifted to entirely remote learning.
There was a 165% increase in broadband consumption from 2017 to 2021, demonstrating an overwhelming demand for internet in our digital world, according to OpenVault. Universal access to the internet does not only improve education for our kids, it also provides access to healthcare via Telehealth for all ages and a way for families to sign up for government sponsored health insurance as well. It opens opportunities for adults to apply for jobs and even work remote jobs. It gives senior citizens chances to check e-mails and keep up on current news.
Public internet can come in many forms, such as fiber optic or free public Wi-Fi zones with “open access.” While municipalities would certainly have to provide effective security measures and privacy policies, the benefits of providing all children and adults with equal access to the internet outweigh the initial infrastructure costs.
Closing the digital divide and homework gap ultimately provides a foundation for the children, adults, and seniors in our community to thrive.
Christie Devoe D.O. is a Resident Physician at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.