Broadband access hits record high, digital divide remains for disadvantaged

Published On: March 31, 2021

A new report out this week says that while Californians are connected to the Internet at a record percentage in 2021, nearly 2 million households remain digitally-disadvantaged.  The Digital Divide has grown more acute for low-income and Latino households, seniors, and people with disabilities, according to a survey by the California Emerging Technology Fund and USC.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 90% of the state’s households have high-speed Internet connectivity at home through either a computing device or a smartphone.
  • 9.6% are unconnected (about 1.25 million households); and 5.6% are underconnected (about 730,000 households).
  • More than a quarter of Californians age 65 and older (28%) and people with disabilities (27%) are unconnected or underconnected with only a smartphone, compared to 15% for the overall population.
  • Disadvantages have grown more acute since the pandemic with so many activities having gone digital, including education, work, healthcare and access to government services.
  • Affordability is the main reason that keeps these households from connecting to the Internet with digital literacy and the lack of an appropriate computing device also being relevant factors.
  • Income is a key determinant in whether a household has Internet access.  Among households earning less than $40,000 a year, 29% have no connection or only have access through a smartphone.

The survey included 1,650 California adults and was conducted between February 10 and March 22, 2021.

Meanwhile, a coalition of organizations representing education, local government, and economic policy called on Gov. Newsom to support a one-time $8 billion investment in funding to help close the Digital Divide.  The group, which included the California State Association of Counties and CAFWD, among others, cited a report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission that estimated the cost of building fiber connections to every unserved residence in California would be $6.8 billion.   The request also includes $1.2 billion for programs to increase adoption, such as providing devices and digital skills training for Californians.

About the Author: Jaivon Grant

Jaivon Grant covers energy and technology issues. He is a former journalist and political commentator with Our Weekly in Los Angeles, CA. He can be reached at jaivon at govreport.org.