NDIA has released a new white paper arguing that current federal policies which limit broadband expenditures to rural infrastructure deployment, while offering no help to millions of unconnected urban residents, are “structurally racist, discriminating against unconnected Black Americans and other communities of color.”
The white paper presents an analysis of 2018 data from the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, comparing the percentages of white and Black residents and people of color living in households with no broadband of any kind, in: a) all U.S. counties whose residents are 75-100% rural (“most rural”; b) all counties where the FCC estimates that more than a third of residents don’t have broadband service available (“most unserved”); c) all counties whose residents are less than 5% rural (“least rural”); and d) all U.S. cities with populations of 200,000 or more.
Here’s how the results are summarized:
Our analysis confirms that there are millions more people living in households with no broadband in big cities and urban counties than there are in the most rural and underserved counties. This isn’t surprising, since urban populations are much bigger. But we also confirmed that:
- In the rural counties which are most likely to qualify for federal broadband funding, people living in households with no broadband — the intended beneficiaries of the government’s ostensible efforts to “close the digital divide” — are mostly “white alone” and non-Hispanic.
- In contrast, the majority of people living in households with no broadband in the nation’s largest cities and least rural counties — the places least likely to qualify for broadband infrastructure funding or any other federal digital inclusion assistance — are non-white, multiracial and/or Hispanic or Latino.
NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer said the white paper shows why federal funding of digital inclusion measures, for urban and rural communities alike, is needed to advance both digital and racial equity. “Yes, we need to make sure rural and tribal communities have physical access to broadband networks, but that’s only one of the barriers to equitable access for all Americans,” Siefer said. “A federal broadband policy to spend billions of dollars, but only for rural infrastructure deployment, discriminates in a big way against unconnected people of color in urban areas — where broadband is available but not affordable, where community digital inclusion efforts are financially starved, and where most unconnected Americans live. This policy is counterproductive, it’s another form of structural racism, and it needs to change now.”