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Report: Together, Federal Funding, States, and Internet Providers Can Close the Digital Divide for the Greater Good

A new report from digital media advocacy organization Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, "Closing the Digital Divide Benefits Everyone, Not Just the Disconnected," examines how bringing internet connectivity to all results in broader benefits to society, using federal funds, with states and internet providers cooperating. The report is divided into three sections: how institutions use connectivity, the infrastructure required for digital essential services, and how to use available federal funds to ensure access to all, regardless of location or income status.

The report examines the benefits of full access in education, health care, government services and employment. In 2021, Congress committed more than $80 billion for broadband through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The states are to manage and disburse funds to network providers, who must prioritize building high-quality fiber networks but ensure connectivity where they are not feasible. The programs also subsidize internet service for low-income households, and providers must make it affordable. In education, digital curriculum resources can vastly improve learning, but students without full access for lack of devices or connectivity can easily "fall behind while their more connected peers make rapid progress," the report notes. Yet not taking advantage of such resources limits the benefits to all students.

In its conclusion, the report recommends that state leaders ensure that:

  • Populations served by institutions are fully connected, especially those that offer essential services'
  • Institutions keep both online and offline services available'
  • Providers prioritize fiber connectivity'
  • States create broadband and digital equity funding programs should federal funds run out or be discontinued'
  • States implement digital needs assessments'
  • States use the Affordable Connectivity Program to incentivize more ISP choices in low-income communities and encourage households to sign up' and
  • States update consumer protections as more households move online.

Visit this page to download the full report.

To learn more about Common Sense Media's work and impact, visit its mission page.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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