Digital divide worsens inequality

As Speed Matters has often noted, the U.S. ranks below other wealthy countries in broadband access. For instance, in Germany and the U.K. 88 percent of households have broadband, but in the United States it’s 73.4 percent, with just 67 percent of rural  households connected.

But according to new census data, reported in the Financial Times, the lag in broadband is not simply a rural-urban division. According to the FT, “US cities that have become synonymous with urban decay, such as Detroit and Flint in Michigan and Macon in Georgia, have household broadband subscription rates of less than 50 per cent, according to the US Census Bureau data.”

Across the country, it appears that Professor Susan Crawford was right when she predicted in 2009:  “we are creating two Americas where the wealthy have access . . . while others are left on a bike path, unable to join in the social and economic benefits that the internet brings”.

Although many factors go into the digital divide, it appears that the high price of U.S. broadband relegates low-income urban families to the wrong side of the tracks. This is not simply the natural price of broadband access, but the result of a series of political decisions. According to the Financial Times, “The OECD ranks the US 30th out of 33 countries for affordability, with an average price of $44 a month, compared with $26 for the UK., $22 for Greece and $16 for South Korea, based on speeds of 2.5 Mbps.”

We can, and should, do better, or risk increasing the gulf between the two Americas.

Digital divide exacerbates US inequality (Financial Times, Oct. 28, 2014)