As digital technology becomes more and more necessary for work, education, health care, business, job applications, and participation in civic life, it is vital for every Pennsylvanian to have access to reliable high speed internet. However, 14% of Pennsylvania households still do not have an internet subscription serviceand 3.1% of Pennsylvanians live in areas with no broadband infrastructure. Many Pennsylvanians also face affordability issues in urban and suburban communities across the state. Even though Erie County has 96.3%broadband internet coverage, and has the infrastructure to support it, the cost can be too expensive for some lower income households. This disparity is known as the digital divide, and there is more to this issue than inaccessibility to affordable and reliable high speed internet.
One aspect of the digital divide includes a lack of access to electronic devices such as smartphones, computers, tablets, or laptops that allow households to connect to high speed internet. This is more prevalent for rural adults, who are less likely than suburban and urban adults to have multiple internet-connected devices. According to the Pew Research Center, the digital divide tends to affect those who have a lower income, live in rural communities, or who have a disability the most, though other demographics including communities of color, senior citizens, and incarcerated individuals are also impacted.
With many Americans adopting remote work and virtual learning during COVID, the digital divide has come into focus. Congress last year passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocates a minimum of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, providing access to the at least 394,000 Pennsylvanians who lack reliable high speed internet.
The infrastructure bill includes three main digital components: infrastructure grants, focusing on providing aid to underserved locations; service plan subsidies for the disadvantaged, directly addressing the affordability barriers around equitable access to broadband; and new labeling requirements on service providers to improve transparency around pricing and performance.
So how does all of this help families in our community? Thanks to the Infrastructure bill, 2,917,000 or 23% of people in Pennsylvania will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Program, which will help low-income families across the state afford internet access by offering monthly discounts on internet service as well as one-time discounts with co-payment options for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. These programs will help narrow the digital divide across Pennsylvania.