At a time when almost everyone and everything seems to be connected, it may be hard to imagine that the benefits of the digital age have not touched every corner of society. As implausible as it may seem, the digital divide persists. Several states have taken steps to narrow the gap, and their efforts appear to be paying dividends.
According to a recent survey, states with dedicated programs to increase broadband access have achieved noticeably higher adoption rates than states without such programs. The survey was conducted by Connected Nation, whose stated mission is to “bring affordable high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans.”
Connected Nation is working in nine states and the territory of Puerto Rico to promote broadband access, adoption and use through the State Broadband Initiative (SBI) program.
The Broadband Data Improvement Act, which was unanimously passed by Congress in 2008 and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, created the SBI grant program.
Late last year, Connected Nation conducted surveys in eight of those states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The results confirm that the programs there are having an impact.
In the eight states surveyed, the broadband adoption rate for 2013 was 76 percent, surpassing the national average of 70 percent. Growth of broadband adoption was also higher in those states, with an increase of 11 percent since 2010 compared to the national growth rate of only 4 percent. The surveys also showed that mobile broadband is on the rise. In the states where the surveys were conducted, usage was at 58 percent in 2013, compared to 30 percent in 2010.
The surveys produced some other compelling results that confirm the need for universal access as well as the need for programs to help attain it. For example, 32 percent of working-age adults would have difficulty with digital skills required by many employers, such as creating a spreadsheet, going online from a mobile device, using a word processor, or sending an email. Also, 35 percent of nonadopters cite a perceived lack of relevance as the primary barrier to adopting broadband, followed by cost (21 percent), and lack of digital literacy skills (12 percent).