Three Policies to Address the Digital Divide

By Robert Seamans
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare many of the inequalities in America, including the differences in access to broadband Internet. To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, many people around the world are now working from home, relying more than ever on a speedy Internet connection. For entertainment, people are now relying heavily on Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming media, which are seeing record subscriber growth. Students are completing their semesters online, and—if my household with a kindergartner and fourth grader is any indication—regularly relying on video conferencing to remain connected with teachers and classmates.

Broadband Internet—which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined in 2015 as having minimum 25 Mbps download speed and minimum 3 Mbps upload speed—makes all this possible. Broadband Internet provides many other benefits, including making it easier to look for work, get treated by a doctor, and engage in civic activity. Despite broadband now being a necessity, however, many Americans still lack access to broadband. Cecilia Kang provides vivid examples of this in her recent New York Times article about people parking close to schools and libraries to access Wi-Fi to conduct their work and complete schoolwork. According to the FCC, as of 2017 only about 60 percent of U.S. households had broadband at the speeds listed above.

We can address this need via good policy. Below I lay out three policies that can help: (1) allow cities to provide their own broadband; (2) expand and reform Lifeline; and (3) provide tax incentives to firms that subsidize their employees’ broadband. The first of these policies stimulates the “supply” of broadband, while the second two stimulate “demand.” Together, these policies should help reduce the digital divide.

Read full Forbes article.

Robert Seamans is an Associate Professor of Management and Organizations.