It’s Cyber Monday and consumers are finding deals on goods and services purchased online. Internet access, for many, has become a basic utility like electricity, phone, and water without which a household might find it difficult to fully operate within our increasingly connected and connection-dependent world. Nonetheless according to a recent Pew Research Report, nationally, 11% of adults say they never use the Internet, with age, educational attainment, and income being the most predictive factors of who are able and choose to be “connected” and who are not. Most strikingly, 35% of adult respondents without a high school diploma are not connected. A similar proportion (34%) of those 65 years and older do not use the Internet. A significant connection gap is apparent when these numbers are compared to access rates of those with a college education and of those who are aged 18 to 29. Only 3% and 2% of those groups, respectively, are not connected. Income also plays a role with 19% of the respondents making less than $30K per year not using the Internet compared to a mere 2% of those earning $75K or more. The divide between rural and urban is also significant– 22% of rural residents are not “connected” vs. 8% of urban dwellers.
In addition to the ability to afford access to the Internet (i.e. wireless plan and/or fixed connection and the necessary equipment) and preference (mostly related to age), the quality and cost of access varies considerably across the county as well as within regions. Due to market competition, the more providers an area has the greater the likelihood of lower cost and faster speeds in that area. With profit in mind, providers are more concentrated in areas with dense population and more households able to pay for premium services. Lower- income areas and rural areas, as such, have been historically under-served when it comes to affordable and quality “fixed” Internet connections.
Below is a screenshot of the FCC’s Fixed Broadband Deployment interactive mapping tool, helpful for exploring where access is concentrated and lacking:
Exploring the the Atlanta Metro region and the State of Georgia using the FCC’s tool you will notice a significant gap in the number of providers consistent with factors identified in the Pew study and discussed in this blog post. More than just a convenient way to shop on Cyber Monday, the Internet (delivered over a fast and reliable connection) has become an integral component of modern life for most people. Yet many are still finding themselves left behind due to economic and spatial factors resulting from the most market-driven nature by which Internet access is provided and priced.