For the vast majority of us, broadband has become so commonplace in our professional, personal, and social lives that we rarely think about how much we depend on it. Yet without broadband, our lives would be radically upended: Our work days would look different, we would spend our leisure time differently, and even our personal relationships would exist differently.
But if broadband is an essential part of daily American life in the 21st century, how can we be comfortable with the fact that over 19 million households do not have a mobile or in-home subscription? Imagine if an electricity outage like the 2003 Northeast blackout occurred every day. Or if the Flint water crisis impacted the entire states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. That’s the scale of broadband disconnect this country experiences.
Simply put, the country needs to make an aggressive case to reach universal broadband adoption. But what does that even mean? Compared to electricity and water, do we understand all the ways broadband impacts individual and community wellbeing? Based on an initial scan of academic and applied research, the short answer is no.
With communities all across the country exploring ways to overcome the digital divide, and with Congress sending clear signals about the importance to address rural disconnect, now is an opportune time to help policymakers and practitioners understand the benefits of pursuing new infrastructure, public policies, and training programs. For us, that process begins with understanding where the current state of knowledge is clear and where it falls short.
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