WASHINGTON—Broadband Internet access is becoming increasingly critical to business operations and our everyday lives, and disparities in broadband availability can lead to social and economic inequalities. However, some activists recently have begun to frame location-based broadband discrepancies in racial terms, accusing Internet service providers (ISPs) of “digital redlining.” According to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, there is almost no statistical relationship between the racial composition of a neighborhood and connectivity, but there is a correlation between income and broadband connectivity.
“A recent trend of accusations equates disparities in broadband access with historical racial redlining, but critics fail to recognize that income and demand are the factors driving connectivity,” said Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at ITIF. “To contend that disparities in broadband availability are rooted in racially motivated decisions by broadband companies is to misdiagnose the problem in a way that is counterproductive to solving it.”
Using Census and other broadband data, the report conducted an analysis and found that the “digital redlining” narrative does not stand up to scrutiny. The report found that high-speed Internet is widely available in areas with high non-White populations. The best-connected area in a broad study is majority non-White, and individual homes in majority non-White neighborhoods have fast broadband available. Low connectivity rates in urban neighborhoods are primarily due to a lack of uptake.
To address remaining broadband inequities, policymakers should provide support that targets the causes of unequal connectivity, such as deficits in digital literacy and hardware accessibility. Policymakers should also continue to provide financial support to those who name cost as the most significant barrier for adoption and focus on how to structure assistance programs such that the funding does the most good for most individuals, including those of minority races.
“Inequalities that cause income and other social measurements to mirror racial delineations remain a significant issue, but evidence for racial discrimination in broadband deployment is lacking,” said Kane. “Policymakers should target their efforts by making broadband widely available and provide resources through investment in program expansion.”