Broadband Access Disparities
The case for broadband access disparities has been established by a recent, widely accessible report (Council of Economic Advisers). The report emphasizes disparities in broadband access based on different metrics including income, educational attainment, age and geography (urban vs. rural). For current purposes, focus is laid on racial, educational and geographic disparities. For racial disparities, report findings show households of White and Hispanic races are at upper and lowest ranks of Internet access at (56.0% – 77.4%) and (34.3% – 66.7%) over (2001-2013) respectively (Council of Economic Advisers). Blacks, Asians and Native Americans improve from (31.0%; N/A; 38.5%) to (61.3%; 86.6%; 58.2%) over corresponding period respectively (Council of Economic Advisers). For educational attainment, a Less Than High School and Bachelor's Degree or Higher are at lowest and highest ranks at (17.5% – 43.8%) and (75.3% – 90.1%) over (2001-2013) respectively (Council of Economic Advisers). High School Graduate and Some College categories improve from (40.4%; 57.8%) to (62.9%; 79.1%) over corresponding period respectively (Council of Economic Advisers). For geography, urban areas enjoy broader and more quality access compared to rural areas. Specifically, Northeast line from Boston to Washington, Chicago and suburbs and California Coast from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay are urban areas of most concentrated and quality broadband access (Council of Economic Advisers). In contrast, Rural South and specific portions home to tribal and Indian lands rank lowest (Council of Economic Advisers). However, many rural areas enjoy high penetration rates and quality including, for example, Northern Great Plains as well as numerous counties in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado and Utah (Council of Economic Advisers).
If anything disparities in broadband access is of broad social implications. For one, governments are shown to play a key role in catering for Internet services for communities at large (Picot and Wernick). Indeed, governments are required increasingly to diffuse broadband connections to as much broader communities as possible based on a rationale of broadband access as being an increasingly public goods service denial of which could lead to inequalities in benefits in healthcare, education or employment – a public-goods service increasingly much like universal utilities as water and electricity as is emphasized in report in question (Picot and Wernick). Further, governments have vested interests in regulating broadband access markets given confirmed social benefits of not only access but quality.
Notably, rural areas appear to experience systematic lower penetration rates for broadband access. Indeed, due to historical reasons of geographical remoteness from metropolitan economic activities, rural areas are shown to exhibit a digital divide compared to more urban areas (Warren). Specifically, due to lower investment in broadband infrastructure (particularly fiber optic cables), rural areas are more disenfranchised in broadband access. Combined by lower economic activities, rural areas are more likely to experience growing digital divide compared to metropolitan areas unless more investments not only in broadband access infrastructure but also in efforts for economic restructuring in order to reverse current gaps.
Accordingly, broadband access has become increasingly well embedded into day-to-day practices. This integration into daily life in each and every practical activity qualifies broadband access as a right all stakeholders should maintain. Specifically, in offering opportunities for prosperity (an end-goal for all communities), broadband access becomes a necessary means without which individuals and communities cannot, in current 21st century context, achieve personal and national goals. Conversely, in failing to gain broadband access, individuals and communities are not only denied access to critical personal and professional opportunities (e.g. college education, healthcare and employment) but are, more significantly, denied equal opportunities in what has become an essential way of personal and professional advancement.
Council of Economic Advisers. Mapping The Digital Divide. The White House, 2015. PDF file.
Picot, Arnold, and Christian Wernick. "The role of government in broadband access." Telecommunications Policy 31.10-11 (2007): 660–674. ScienceDirect. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.
Warren, Martyn. "The digital vicious cycle: Links between social disadvantage and digital exclusion in rural areas." Telecommunications Policy 31.6-7 (2007): 374–388. ScienceDirect. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.