Every winter for the past several years, my friends and I have rented a cabin away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In our backyard are the beautiful Colorado mountains and a stunning lake that has been frozen over for the season. I always enjoy an escape from the city, but I also know that the weekend away comes with spotty Internet and cell service. For me, I take it as an opportunity to unplug from the world and truly engage in conversations with my friends.
For many of us, we don’t often have to think about broadband—a term that describes a range of technologies that provide high-speed access to the internet—but it’s a problem for many communities in our country. A recent report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicated that approximately 19 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband service and one in four residents in rural areas did not have broadband services at all. FCC data also shows that the populations that tend to be disconnected are older, have lower incomes, have less education, and are often people of color; rural areas top this list, but it is an issue in urban areas as well.
Many communities of color and low-income communities don’t have the infrastructure needed to have reliable access to high-speed Internet or can’t afford the services that are available, which essentially results in digital redlining. Even in areas where broadband is available, approximately 100 million Americans still do not subscribe—cost being one of the top barriers in access to services. A community’s access to high-speed Internet is important for its economic growth, with some advocates believing high-speed Internet should be recognized as a vital good like water and electricity.
There are many implications to not having access to broadband services. As schools become increasingly digital, a lack of broadband services makes it difficult for students to complete homework and research assignments. Students without access beyond their time at school might have to rely on mobile data plans to complete their work. In addition, broadband equity affects rural health as well. Telemedicine and telehealth is being used to bring health care services to remote and rural areas in hopes of reducing health disparities. However, in order for these innovations to be successful, broadband connectivity is needed between telehealth sites, providing a reliable link between patients, care providers, and technology. The communities that are most in need of these services are the ones who are struggling to access it.
In Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper is set to sign a bill allocating over $100 million in the next five years to extend high-speed Internet to rural Colorado. Faster Internet speeds in rural areas are often considered key to addressing the economic divide between rural and urban communities, and this bill is a significant step forward to connecting those communities to much needed services. We need to continue the work to bridge the gap, so all Coloradans have reliable Internet—their economic vitality and their health depends on it.
I am grateful for the opportunities to enjoy beautiful Colorado without a need to use the Internet, but I know there is privilege in my ability to disconnect! When we make broadband more accessible, we’re helping to ensure all Coloradans have the opportunity to live a healthy, prosperous life, regardless of their race, income, and ZIP code.