Affordability is the biggest barrier to broadband access in Louisiana

More and more functions of daily life are internet-based, and the gap between those with easy access to the web and those without, known as the digital divide, is becoming a bigger problem every day.

For the majority of the United States, the digital divide is mainly caused by the accessibility of broadband, and not by the lack of infrastructure, according to a new report of EducationSuperHighway, a national non-profit organization that works to eradicate inequalities on the Internet.

“Historically, the digital divide story has been about building infrastructure in rural America where people don’t have access, and it’s still an important thing we need to do, but it’s no longer the most important thing, “said Evan Marwell. , CEO and Founder of EducationSuperHighway.

In light of these data, the association is launching the “No Home Left Offline” campaign, a long-term plan to raise awareness of broadband accessibility, expand data collection that households cannot afford. connect, work with state governors to write policies and help cities and schools enroll families in need.

The digital divide, or the gap between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not, is primarily a question of affordability, according to a new report.

The campaign consists of two programs, the Broadband Adoption Center program, which will help people sign up for the emergency broadband benefit, and the nonprofit Apartment Wi-Fi program, which install free Wi-Fi networks in low-income buildings. The broadband emergency benefit is a monthly grant of $ 50.

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Marwell said that this new campaign and this new report is mainly due to the pandemic and the drive to get everyone online. Previously, the accessibility of broadband seemed to be an intractable problem due to the lack of data and funding. Today, thanks to data from Internet service providers and federal funding – the government is currently spending $ 20 billion on “the nation’s largest broadband accessibility program” – Marwell said the goal of helping those who cannot afford the Internet seems achievable.

“Now is our chance,” Marwell said. “We have this incredible opportunity to really accelerate the number of people online, and if we can’t do it now, I don’t know when we can.”

The report found that 65% of those surveyed in Louisiana said affordability is the biggest barrier to their internet access, and about a fifth of the state’s population – 937,000 people – can’t afford to ” access the Internet at home.

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Affordability is the number one cause of the digital divide nationwide, affecting millions of people

Nationally, accessibility of broadband is the main cause of the digital divide in 43 states and affects 18.1 million households, or approximately 47 million people. About two-thirds of all disconnected households in the country are not connected because they cannot afford it, the report concludes.

The digital divide is particularly acute in states with large rural populations, according to the report. Part of the reason, Marwell said, is that rural communities face issues of affordability and infrastructure. The affordability of broadband also disproportionately affects black and Hispanic Americans.

“At first I thought it was something that was largely concentrated in urban America, but it turns out it isn’t,” Marwell said. “The accessibility gap is a problem in cities but also in suburbs and small towns and even in rural areas that already have Internet access. It is a problem for all of America.”

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The first step in solving the problem of broadband affordability is awareness, Marwell said. There are federally funded programs for those in need, but households cannot apply if they are not aware of them. According to the report, only 23% of people eligible for federal broadband accessibility programs signed up.

However, Marwell said general awareness campaigns don’t work as effectively as targeted campaigns. To address this issue, Marwell said the organization hopes to collect more data on households that need help so it can allocate resources to them.

In the past, EducationSuperHighway has helped the country overcome other issues related to the digital divide. When the organization was formed in 2012, it helped bring broadband to all U.S. public schools within the span of seven years. Once the goal was reached, Marwell said he planned to end the business, but things changed once the pandemic hit and his phone started ringing with questions on how to determine which students needed the Internet at home and how they could best get it online.

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Marwell said he anticipates this new mission will take around eight years. The next 18 months will be devoted to finding solutions, and the next five years or so will be devoted to scaling up operations nationwide.

Follow Sabrina LeBoeuf on Twitter @_sabrinakaye and on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3B8sgHo.

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