Over 31 percent of rural Americans do not have access to broadband at home — a staggering amount when compared to the four percent of urban Americans who can’t get access.
Millions of hard-working Americans aren’t able to participate in and grow the digital economy, just as millions aren’t able to enjoy many of the conveniences of modern life. Too many American children are unable to adequately complete their homework. Closing the rural digital divide is imperative. The failure to get rural internet connections up-to-speed, Americans who live in these areas do not have access to digital services that most Americans rely on, whether it’s checking Doppler weather radar, applying for government programs, or accessing employment and educational opportunities.
Policymakers should begin to address the rural digital divide in the following ways:
- Congress and the Federal Communications Commission should support and expand the Lifeline Assistance Program to provide low-income families with a communications subsidy for broadband access.
- Internet service providers in rural areas should expand and eliminate enrollment barriers to discount internet offers for low-income communities.
- The digital divide disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly in rural America. The FCC should collect and report demographic data including race, ethnicity, gender, income, and education-level in its annual Broadband Deployment Report as a tool to assess discrimination in deployment based on intersectional identities.
- Policymakers should ensure providers are deploying high-speed, reliable, and quality broadband in rural communities so Americans in those communities can fully participate in a 21st-century society.
What PK Is Doing…
Public Knowledge believes in a level playing field for all Americans everywhere, a field on which there are no obstacles to the websites, products, and services we all want and need. We are fighting for full, affordable service to all Americans.
In 2018 we spearheaded the Principles to Connect Rural America, and the Broadband Connects America Coalition, with the goal of crafting new solutions to close the rural digital divide. Our principles focus on practical solutions to encourage build-out by broadband providers, address barriers like affordability, and ensure high-speed and reliable connections to the internet.
In 2020 we are fighting for an extension of the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window. This priority window of time allows rural Tribes to apply for free spectrum that they can use to provide wireless broadband service for their communities. But despite the promise of this opportunity for Tribal communities, Tribes have faced significant hurdles to finishing their applications on time due to the COVID-19 crisis. The #ConnectTribes campaign is pushing for at least a 180-day extension.
We continue to focus our work on rural broadband access and communities of color. Fifteen percent of rural Americans are people of color. Research shows that in some states there is double and triple that number of people of color in rural areas, and that 27 percent of people of color who live in rural America do not have access to the internet at home. Our failure to acknowledge this diversity has the potential to create serious gaps in our policy solutions which leaves people of color in rural communities behind. We aim to shed light on racial discrimination in the fight for rural broadband access.