The “digital divide” simply put is the gap between those that do and do not have access to technology and high-speed reliable internet. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the digital divide in communities across the country. In South LA, families face significant barriers to accessing devices, affordable internet, and necessary digital literacy skills. According to a survey conducted by CHC’s Social Change Institute New Fund for Children and Youth, 49 percent of children rarely or never have access to a digital device or the internet at home in LA County.
Low-income and communities of color also face “digital redlining”, which is when large internet service providers (ISPs) systematically exclude low-income neighborhoods from modern broadband services.
Instead, ISPs prioritize laying fiber-optic infrastructure in high-income neighborhoods furthering inequalities because low-income users are left with more expensive and slower broadband services by the same providers.
The digital divide challenges for South LA residents during the pandemic were many, including difficulty accessing healthcare services and relying heavily on audio only telehealth. Students who remain disconnected are predominantly Black, Latino, and low-income students who are unable to pay for internet access or devices. The academic impacts of learning from home caused students to fall behind in school because they were unable to access classes, complete online assignments, or focus on virtual learning. Most of the people who lost their jobs were low-income workers that cannot telecommute. The lack of access to the internet also reduces the community’s ability to be civically engaged.
CHC is committed to digital equity and closing the digital divide for under-resourced residents. We have closely followed the state, county, and local budget processes to identify funding for broadband because we need significant investment to close the digital divide.
State Level: Governor Newsom and the California Legislature have agreed on AB 156 which allocates $6 billion for broadband access, including:
- $3.25 billion for middle-mile infrastructure;
- $750 million for a loan-loss reserve, and;
- $2 billion for last-mile projects
Local Level: The City of Los Angeles has also approved $5 million for broadband and digital inclusion.
The County plans to use a portion of the $1.9 billion available from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to invest in broadband infrastructure. It will also continue to support the LA County Library’s effort to close the digital divide through its existing Laptop and Hotspot Loan program.
Federal Level: At the federal level, President Biden has announced support for $65 billion for broadband infrastructure in the proposed Bipartisan Infrastructure plan.
At CHC, we believe that policy should enable affordable pricing, digital inclusion support, and expand internet access to areas where there is no service or it exists, but the bandwidth and speeds are low.
Photo credit: Governor Newsom Signs AB 156 (source Twitter)