Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 21, 2016

Broadband Access in Oregon

Our Rural Oregon report concluded with “ensuring good infrastructure for both newer technologies, like high speed internet access, and the old fashioned, like highways, ports and rail, will help maintain and increase [market] access.” That first part, about high speed internet access, is a topic I’ve been planning on coming back to.

In the most recent couple of years, the American Community Survey has begun asking questions about computer and internet access. Here is a quick summary showing the share of Oregonians without broadband access at home. As one probably expects, older, more rural, lower income households have less access to the internet than their younger, more urban, better educated, higher income counterparts. Even so, the differences between these groups is quite large.

ORInternet

The reason this matters, is that internet access is essential in today’s society, for personal and professional reasons. It also applies to students and homework, as a recent New York Times article, titled “Bridging a Digital Divide That Leaves Schoolchildren Behind,” highlights.

The challenge is felt across the nation. Some students in Coachella, Calif., and Huntsville, Ala., depend on school buses that have free Wi-Fi to complete their homework. The buses are sometimes parked in residential neighborhoods overnight so that children can connect and continue studying. In cities like Detroit, Miami and New Orleans, where as many as one-third of homes do not have broadband, children crowd libraries and fast-food restaurants to use free hot spots.

Additionally:

In McAllen Independent School District, which has 33 schools and 25,000 students, each location runs wireless hot spots 24 hours a day so that students can sit in parking lots or crouch against school walls to do homework into the night.

As it so happens, the White House Council of Economic Advisors just released a brief report on the digital divide of broadband access as well. They discuss the impact of competition in rural and urban markets, the fact that higher income households have much higher rates of internet access, unemployed workers are more likely to find a job if they have internet at home, and more. From their conclusion:

Policies that address these three factors — affordability, access to devices and digital literacy — will likely help increase broadband adoption, ensuring that more Americans are able to take part in the digital economy and share in its economic and social benefits.

Just some food for thought to start the week.


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