A Digital Divide Builds a Steeper Wall of Inequality

By Yesenia JimenezBill Emerson National Hunger Fellow

As policymakers debate digital equity and inclusion, it’s important for them to hear voices like mine. Unlike some of my millennial peers, my family did not have access to a computer or broadband internet at our apartment in Los Angeles. We couldn’t afford to pay $70 a month for internet plus the other installation fees housing authority required. Lack of internet access was particularly difficult for me in high school. Often my teachers would assign homework that required me to go online. My solution was usually to use the computers at my local library until the building closed.

While attending community college, the problem worsened. I had to balance a full-time course load, a part-time job, and a part-time internship. My only spare time was at night, and the local library was closed by the time I could get there. The next closest public building in my neighborhood with free Wi-Fi access was the hospital. When I had no other choice, I spent late night hours working on assignments in the waiting area of the emergency room.

High-speed internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity. With a majority of the U.S. population connected to the internet, it’s very easy to forget about the people who don’t have internet access. Disconnected households are more likely to be low income and located in under-resourced communities.

In 2018, 87 percent of households with an annual income of $75,000 or more had access to the internet. In comparison, only 45 percent of households with an annual income of $30,000 or less were connected to the internet. Poor, rural communities are also left behind with only 58 percent of households there having internet access at home. Urban communities are less connected to broadband at home than suburban communities. The digital divide creates a steeper wall of inequity for communities of color that are more likely than their white counterparts to be disconnected.

To close the digital divide, we must promote more equitable solutions to ensure communities have full access to and use of affordable technologies. This includes reliable internet service, internet-enabled devices that meet user needs, digital literacy training, and the applications and online content that can help improve economic, social, health, and educational outcomes for impacted communities.

I know from my own experience that those on the disconnected side of the digital divide must work harder just to keep up with those who have the access and tools they need to fully participate in our rapidly changing world that so heavily depends on technology.