Broadband is so influential on society that we would now call it essential infrastructure. That means affordable subscription prices, universal access to connected devices, and a population equipped with digital skills are now vital characteristics of a healthy neighborhood, city, state, or country. Broadband’s applications are so far-reaching that these physical networks directly and indirectly affect a wide range of conditions that impact health and life outcomes, known as social determinants of health (SDOH).
Despite its importance, broadband is still far from ubiquitous. Millions of households do not have access to high-speed wireline or wireless services, and many more lack the digital skills or income to use online services. These gaps persist across all kinds of places: in every single state, regardless of density levels, from small towns to urban neighborhoods, and among demographic groups of all races, educational attainments, and income levels.
Moving forward, the country’s public officials and their private and civic sector peers face a critical choice. If broadband is essential infrastructure, then regulation and public policy should support every American community having equitable access to broadband and the skills necessary to use it.
Over the past year, Brookings Metro and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance pursued research to understand the connections between broadband and health and equity, as well as assess the gaps in broadband access and adoption, the market and policy barriers that lead to those gaps, and promising points of intervention for local, state, and federal leaders to deliver shared value to individuals and entire communities.