Spotlight Exclusives

Food, Shelter, Broadband Internet: Conquering the Digital Divide

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Lack of access to basic resources is a key feature of poverty. As a result, programs aimed at helping those in poverty often focus on meeting basic needs, such as ensuring families have enough food to eat or enough heat to warm their homes. Typically, that list does not include broadband Internet access. It should.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


Internet access may seem trivial compared with needs like food and shelter, but it is an increasingly vital tool for low-income people seeking to improve their economic circumstances. A new report by John Dunbar, project director of the Connected project at American University۪s Investigative Reporting Workshop, explains the importance of getting online. He notes that “finding and applying for jobs often takes place entirely online. Students receive assignments via email. Basic government services are routinely offered online.”


That۪s why OOTS wants to lift up Dunbar۪s report, which shows that the much-discussed “digital divide” of the 1990s remains very real for too many low-income Americans.


According to the report, poverty is strongly correlated with broadband accessor rather, the lack of it. As the report describes, “Every major survey has shown that the lower the income, the less likely it is that households will subscribe to the Internet.” In particular, the report discusses a survey by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA,) which showed that “those whose family income is $15,000 or less adopted broadband at a 32 percent rate while those whose families earn $150,000 or more adopt at a nearly 90 percent rate.”


The most connected states are concentrated in the Northeast, while the least connected are in the South — Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. Not surprisingly last year۪s KIDS COUNT Data Book on child well-beingalso ranked all three of these states in the bottom five.

So what۪s actually stopping low-income people from getting online? Primarily cost. The report suggests that low-income consumers are faced with unaffordable rates because lack of competition gives service providers little incentive to lower prices.


There are also information gaps. The Connected report points out some consumers simply don۪t know the value of the Internet and how it might play a significant role in securing other resources.


Despite broadband Internet۪s importance, the conversation about access to technology and economic opportunity has significant room to grow. OOTS will continue to do its part by lifting up new research for its readers.

Posted by Sarah

Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn’t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

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