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Technology After 25 years of trying to close the digital divide, challenges remain

23:15  04 may  2021
23:15  04 may  2021 Source:   techrepublic.com

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The notion of a "digital divide" first came about more than 25 years ago — a time when communication demands first began moving from landlines to the internet. This shift, according to a new report by Deloitte, resulted in disparities between rural and urban demographics and low- and high-income earners. And while many steps have been made over the past couple of decades to close the gap—just in the past 10 years, the U.S. government spent more than $100 billion on broadband infrastructure—millions of individuals are still burdened by unaffordable or inadequate internet connectivity.

a view of a city at night © Provided by TechRepublic a view of a city at night: After 25 years of trying to close the digital divide, challenges remain © TechRepublic After 25 years of trying to close the digital divide, challenges remain

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According to the report, "Broadband for All: Charting a Path to Economic Growth," one main factor for the continuing disparity is that various government programs that were established to increase the number of individuals with access to the Federal Communications Commission's definition of broadband, they were only able to do so by less than 1% (or 1.6 million people) between 2014 and 2019. This low figure is a consequence, in part, of the rapidly changing definition of broadband and individuals not having the means to keep up with the standard.

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The report says in 2014, 16 million Americans (or 5% of the US population) did not have broadband services that met the 4 Mbps downlink benchmark standard then listed by the FCC. And in 2019, more than 14 million Americans did not have access to broadband that fulfilled the new FCC speed threshold (25 Mbps downlink).

"Broadband for All" attempts to show that closing the digital divide would not only benefit those with no or poor broadband access, but it would also be a desirable achievement for the overall health of the economy.

For the study, Deloitte says it used various models from publicly available information to assess the correlation between broadband availability and economic prosperity. Deloitte says its report substantiates three hypotheses.

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First, that broadband expansion is long overdue. According to its analysis, if the U.S. had expanded broadband access by just 10% in 2016, that would have led to more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019 (in other words, an annual creation of around 269,000 positions).

Second, Deloitte asserts that if, in 2016, the U.S. added just 10 Mbps to average internet download speeds, by 2019 this would have led to roughly 139,000 additional jobs in the country (however, Deloitte says its "analysis also indicates diminishing returns with the rate of job growth slowing as speeds continue to increase").

And finally, the report states if the U.S. had taken the initiative to increase broadband access by a mere 10% in 2015, the result would have been more than 875,000 new jobs— as well as around $186 billion in extra-economic production.

"When it comes to the public or private broadband investments to close the digital divide, the economic benefits are clear," Jack Fritz, principal at Deloitte, said in a press release. But such an endeavor, he added, "will require stakeholders to navigate potentially competing priorities across emerging technologies that can meet needs in the near-term, the long-term desires for faster speeds, and financial support for devices and in-home equipment."

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