America’s persistent digital divide isn’t limited to either our biggest cities or our most isolated rural areas. Big gaps in home broadband connection can be found in communities of all sizes throughout the country.
NDIA’s past Worst Connected Cities reports have only looked at the nation’s largest cities, defined as those with more than 50,000 households. Our new 2018 analysis, released today, expands that perspective to include more than four hundred mid-sized cities — those with fewer than 50,000 households but more than 65,000 residents.
NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities of 2018 include smaller municipalities like Pharr (TX), East Los Angeles (CA), Gary (IN), Lorain (OH) and Albany (GA). At least half of all households in each of these five communities lacked cable, DSL or fiber (“wireline “) broadband Internet subscriptions last year, according to new data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey One Year Estimates for 2018. Large percentages of their homes had no home broadband subscriptions of any kind, including mobile data plans.
Those statistical gaps represent major real-life barriers for community residents. Without reliable, fast Internet access, and the skills that come from using it regularly, it’s increasingly difficult for Americans anywhere to apply for any job, or advance in most employment situations; to keep up with schoolwork; to navigate healthcare providers’ management and information systems; to stay informed and engaged in their communities; to take advantage of mainstream shopping and personal finance options; or to maintain daily connections with family and friends.
The new American Community Survey release has 2018 household Internet access data for 623 U.S. cities and “Census designated places” with populations of 65,000 or more. NDIA has used this data to identify 221 communities of all sizes where more than 30% of households lacked wireline broadband subscriptions. They range from Chicago, with more than a million households, to Florence-Graham, a “Census designated place” south of Los Angeles with fewer than 15,000.
These are NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities of 2018.
What’s different about this year’s edition of Worst Connected Cities
From 2015 through 2018, NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities reports focused on large cities with 50,000 or more households. Those with the highest percentages of non-connection were included in an annual list of the twenty-five “Worst Connected”.
This year’s report is different. It includes all the communities for which the 2018 ACS One Year Estimates provide data, not just those with 50,000 or more households. And there’s no “worst connected 25” list. Instead, we’ve identified and mapped all of the communities covered by the ACS where more than 30% of households didn’t have wireline broadband subscriptions in 2018. And within that group of cities, we’ve further identified those where more than 20% of households had no broadband of any kind, including mobile data plans.
We’ve made these changes with two goals in mind:
- to make the Worst Connected Cities report useful and relevant for leaders, activists and local media in as many communities as possible, not just the biggest cities; and
- to help policymakers and analysts recognize that digital inequity is a significant issue for many, many communities throughout the country — communities that don’t necessarily fit in boxes called “big city” or “rural America”.