Making the Internet Faster and More Affordable Will Improve Essential Services for Everyone, New Report Says

The analysis by Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group looks at how closing the digital divide would advance innovation and improve quality of essential services through key institutions

Common Sense Media
Wednesday, December 7, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7, 2022—A new report released today by Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group demonstrates that making the internet faster, more affordable, and more available will improve essential services for everyone, not just the under-connected. The report, "Closing the Digital Divide Benefits Everyone, Not Just the Unconnected," outlines how services critical to the well-being of families—across education, health care, government, and employment—can be dramatically improved if institutions and communities both have equal access to high-speed internet. This report is the fourth released by Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group since 2020 that focuses on closing the digital divide.

While essential institutions may have the capacity to make full use of online technologies, doing so without first closing the digital divide would deprive communities that stand to benefit the most from accessing those essential services. With an unprecedented amount of new federal funding, states now have the resources necessary to close the digital divide and ensure equitable access to higher-quality and more efficient services in key sectors. Last year, Congress committed more than $80 billion for broadband through two major federal laws: the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

The report found that when communities had equitable access to faster and affordable internet, it dramatically impacted key institutions providing essential services in the following ways:

  • Education: Students and their caregivers have better access to teachers, and educators can strategically employ edtech tools to benefit student outcomes.
  • Health care: There are improved patient outcomes through better access to telemedicine, and doctors are able to see more patients in remote areas by expanding virtual service.
  • Government services: Households can more easily use benefit programs, and governments can improve efficiency of their services through mass communication and awareness.
  • Employment: Job seekers have more opportunities, and employers can find better candidates remotely.

"A lot has been said about the digital divide and its profound impact on the individual, but the divide also exists at the institutional level," said Amina Fazlullah, Senior Director of Equity Policy at Common Sense Media. "Equitable access to the internet is necessary to unlock the modernization of essential public services, and the billions of dollars in new broadband and digital equity funding could unlock innovation within these institutions for the benefit of all."

The report spotlights various case studies from across the country to show how institutions benefit from closing the digital divide. The Washoe County School District used the Emergency Connectivity Fund to establish near universal connectivity among its students, which unlocked a variety of online education tools for schools. UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine used grant funding to deploy a psychiatric virtual care program that provided appointments to thousands of vulnerable patients.

"States are on the precipice of receiving a substantial influx of funds that have the potential to reshape connectivity in our country, which would have monumental impacts across society," said Kelsey Clark, Managing Director and Partner and Co-Leader of Public Sector Broadband at BCG. "To prepare for the federal funds, state leaders need to be proactive about understanding who lacks access and why, engaging local institutions in co-developing solutions, tapping into multiple funding sources across the public and private sectors, and building their own capacity to deploy funds in a way that maximizes the impact of their investment."

According to the report, leveraging ARPA and IIJA funds will benefit everyone—consumers, communities, and the private sector—but how well the funds are used will depend on key decisions by state broadband leaders. The report provides tactical guidance for how to think about connectivity, and best practices for getting the most out of the funds available for these essential services.

Select Recommendations for State Broadband Leaders

  • Work closely with institutions providing essential services, and all related stakeholders, to account for their current and future broadband needs in required planning for the two main broadband infrastructure programs, the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) and the Digital Equity Act (DEA).
  • Use digital inclusion programming to help cement the success of investments in broadband infrastructure deployment, specifically investing in long-term Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) outreach and enrollment, and digital inclusion programming.

Our previous research with BCG explored the depths of the K–12 digital divide and became instrumental to leaders who ultimately ensured the passage of the IIJA.

Read the full report here.


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