Around 19 million households do not have broadband throughout the United States, but the digital divide is decreasing yearly. Over a five-year span, all states saw an increase in broadband adoption rates, with the gab between highest and lowest adoption states significantly closing. Data for broadband adoption rates is not accesbale prior to 2015, but the gab between average adoption rates for high-income households (above $75,000) and low-income (below $20,000) is narrowing as well.
Something important to note when speaking of broadband, is that according to the Federal Communications Commission, “broadband” actually refers to a spectrum of technology, including both fixed and mobile services. This is important as states with the lowest broadband adoption rate also have the highest mobile-only subscriptions. This is not a full substitute for full, in-home services.
In understanding what drives different outcomes across states, we looked at four variables of interest: income, race, rural population, and education. Using regressions to analyze those variables, our team found results similar to many other researchers before us (see here and here). States with higher median incomes, higher rates of education, fewer residents of color, and a smaller rural population share had higher overall broadband adoption rates. In terms of mobile-only subscriptions, the reverse is true. States with larger shares of Black residents and lower levels of education had higher rates of mobile-only services.
The growing research consensus around these variables of interest presents a valuable opportunity to inform policy design. If specific factors consistently impact broadband adoption, states can prioritize policies that will overcome barriers to more equitable broadband performance. For example, states with higher shares of low-income residents may want to prioritize policies to address affordability, while states with residents with lower levels of educational attainment may want to prioritize digital literacy programming.
States have many different options to explore when it comes to increasing broadband availability statewide. According to a report by Pew, 50% of non-broadband users cite cost as a major factor and 45% cite a lack of perceived usefulness.