We must address Connecticut’s digital divide
For nearly a year now, our world has become increasingly digital. Almost all children in Connecticut are learning remotely right now, their teachers leading Zoom lessons, while a majority of employers in the state either allow or mandate work-from-home policies. With more people staying at home, entertainment is increasingly driven by the internet, whether through social media, online shopping or streaming services. This is an acceleration of trends we’ve seen in recent decades, and will likely only continue picking up speed.
What we do know is that the pandemic exposed a gulf in ability to access the internet. When libraries and offices closed in the spring, many people found themselves without resources they used every day and were left scrambling. The state itself supplied tens of thousands of wireless hotspots to homes without broadband internet access to ensure children could continue to learn virtually – and there are a lot of them. Statewide, just over half of homes in Connecticut have broadband internet access, with that number dipping as low as 45.5 percent in New Haven County. Microsoft reports broadband internet is not available at all for 33,000 Connecticut residents -– 1 percent of the state population.
When the internet holds as much power as it does today, effectually serving as a digital extension of modern society, it is imperative that we correct these issues. In this legislative session, I plan to propose a dive into the ramifications of internet haves vs. have-nots. Are studies showing students who have high-speed internet access perform better than those without correct? What effect does lack of internet access have for unemployed job seekers and those filling out online forms? Every day, internet access holds increasing ramifications for success in the modern world, a trend we cannot look away from.
We need to find the internet deserts across the state, whether their existence is due to affordability or access. Whether a family cannot afford broadband internet access or they literally cannot access it in their home, it has real-world effects on every member, with the seriousness of the divide likely to only grow further, exposing the poverty gap in the state. Residents who cannot access internet are left with a disadvantage, as are those who cannot pay for it.
We need to find solutions for consumers struggling with high internet bills, as some regions see de-facto monopolies with just one provider available. That’s especially damaging when some companies put profits over consumers. Connecticut residents who only have Comcast as their internet provider, for instance, will now suffer from a mandatory penalty if they consume too much data. That’s not fair and it’s not sustainable. We need to expand offerings and allow folks to actually have a choice in their providers.
Expanding accessibility and offerings to the internet would also force internet utilities into a competitive marketplace, benefitting consumers as a whole. If you’ve ever lost internet service, whether just for a few minutes or an extended outage, you know how frustrating it can be. If providers suffer potential penalties for poor service, or risk a customer changing providers after that poor service, they then have inherent reason to bolster the quality of their product.
When the United Nations has considered a question of increasing importance in today’s day and age – “is internet access a human right?” – we cannot sit idly by and allow some residents of our state to go without this increasingly vital resource. Improving costs, service and access stand a chance at benefitting the entire state.
State Senator Saud Anwar, a Democrat from South Windsor, represents 3rd Senate District.
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