Access to high-speed Internet service — also known as broadband — is a basic public necessity, just like water or electricity.
Yet despite its importance, broadband access in the United States is far from universal. Millions of Americans still stand on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to tap into the political, economic and social resources of the Internet.
A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that just 67 percent of American adults have high-speed Internet access at home, down from 70 percent in 2013. Those declines were largely concentrated within marginalized groups, including African Americans, rural residents and low-income families. Pew noted that a plurality of non-adopters cite the cost of broadband service as a critical barrier.
Americans who do have home broadband connections pay more and get less than residents of most other developed nations. Survey after survey shows U.S. broadband quality, speed and adoption rates falling dangerously behind that of countries in Asia and Europe.
This is unacceptable in our digital age, when getting all Americans connected to an open, fast and affordable Internet should be a national priority.
Broken policies in Washington have made it easier for phone and cable companies to charge more and more for high-speed Internet access — and to refuse to connect underserved communities. Meanwhile, several state legislatures, bowing to pressure from the cable lobby, have banned community-owned networks that would offer affordable, world-class Internet to hundreds of thousands of people. The result? More people are stuck with high prices, limited choices and slow — or nonexistent — Internet service.
Whether Americans are able to reap the benefits of broadband — and whether they enjoy a choice of providers, speeds and prices — depends largely on policy decisions made in Washington.