New Report finds that Investment in ‘Rural Only’ Federal Broadband Policies Discriminates Against Communities of Color

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) just released a report entitled “Limiting Broadband Investment to “Rural Only” Discriminates Against Black Americans and other Communities of Color.” Pulling data from the American Communities Survey, NDIA argues that:

  • Most Americans who have a chance of benefiting from federal spending on rural broadband deployment subsidies are non-Hispanic white
  • Americans who lack home broadband service for reasons other than broadband access are disproportionately people of color.


The report distinguishes between broadband availability and broadband subscription. Not having broadband access means broadband is not available at your house, typically a challenge in America’s most rural areas. Not having a home broadband subscription (also known as internet adoption) usually means broadband is available but you are choosing not to purchase it- usually due to cost – a major challenge of cities and towns across the country.


Federal Broadband policy:

Other than limited COVID-19 emergency funds to help provide connectivity for unconnected students in urban schools, all federal dollars appropriated to bridge the digital divide have been devoted to rural broadband infrastructure deployment. According to NDIA “Eligibility for these dollars is always limited to areas where not a single provider offers fixed home broadband service”. Because cable television providers usually offer home internet service in metropolitan area as well as small towns across the US, the vast majority of the nation’s population lives in areas that are not eligible for federal deployment subsidies.


How does federal broadband affect communities of color?

Black Americans and people of color tend to live in more urban areas, whereas the US’s most rural areas are predominantly non-Hispanic White. However, according to NDIA’s analysis, there are more Americans living in urban areas without broadband subscriptions than there are urban areas that lack access to broadband. They found that “76% of residents living without broadband connections in the most rural third of U.S. counties were white and non-Hispanic. “ By contrast, “substantial majorities of the residents in households without broadband in our urban datasets were people of color.” In the country’s most urban counties, people of color accounted for 75% of the unconnected (households without broadband subscriptions).  


Bottom line:

NDIA affirms that the federal government should continue its efforts to deploy broadband to our most rural counties, but it should also include accompanying investments to ensure that urban residents from black and brown communities can afford broadband subscriptions.