Home broadband is more important than ever. It is also apparently a luxury item.

Just over half of Americans earning less than $ 30,000 a year have broadband at home, an increasingly important service for many areas of life, from school to work to work. socialization. A much higher 92 percent of households earning $ 75,000 or more per year have a broadband connection at home, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.

“This gap has persisted even as the number of people living in poor households has increased over the years,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew, who has been studying broadband access for two decades. .

Broadband access also varies depending on other demographic factors. People without a university degree were less likely to have broadband access than people with more education. Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to have it than their white counterparts. But income was one of the most important determinants of whether or not people had broadband.

This is due to the high cost of the Internet in the United States – around $ 60 per month – which is more than many Americans can afford. Nearly half of those who don’t have broadband don’t because they say it’s too expensive, according to the survey. Broadband in the United States is more expensive than in many other developed countries.

The crux of the matter is that the United States is very large and it is expensive to build internet infrastructure, so internet companies are more likely to do it in areas where there are a lot of paying customers: richest and most populated areas. Since Internet companies are not regulated like utilities, they have little economic incentive to develop the Internet in isolated or poorer areas, where there are fewer customers or at least fewer customers who can afford it. to permit. The result is a digital divide in which many poorer, more rural Americans do not have access to high-speed internet.

The problem is not new and there have been many efforts to improve the situation from a political point of view, in particular by subsidizing broadband, making broadband a public service and moving forward with Biden’s infrastructure plan, which includes billions of dollars in the publicly funded Internet investment. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which in the previous administration had pushed for deregulate the internet industry, even awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX a lot of money in the hope that its satellites can help bridge the digital divide.

Of course, there is a long way between good intentions and the cheaper Internet.

Meanwhile, around half of people without broadband say they can do whatever they need online with their smartphone. About 15% of Americans own a smartphone but don’t have a broadband connection, and this group has lower incomes and less education than people who don’t rely on smartphones for the internet. Low-income Americans are more likely to have a smartphone than home broadband (76% vs. 57%, but they are still less likely than higher-income people, 96%, to own one).

People can do a lot of things perfectly on a smartphone, but there is an upper limit (try writing and sending a cover letter, switching between different tabs and apps for work, or even being able to get them. same options on your bank’s mobile website as their regular website).

“In most cases, it’s easier to use a larger screen with a connected computer than to use a smartphone,” Rainie said. ” If you do not have [a computer with broadband], you’re not really connected to the modern economy, ”he said, stressing how important it is to have a high-speed computer for things like applying for a job. “The data shows that you are not capable of being the kind of social, political and economic actor that people with broadband can be,” he added.

Many smartphone plans also have data limited, and even unlimited plans are limited after a certain time, which means you can’t browse or download as much as you could over a broadband connection.

The deficits became particularly apparent during the pandemic, when many of the things we did in person had to be done online, and when video capabilities – which require a lot of bandwidth – became extremely important. Indeed, another Pew study found that the share of Americans who view broadband internet access as the responsibility of the government has jumped 15 percentage points – far more than any other topic – from before the pandemic.

And the need for home broadband will remain high after the pandemic ends, as many of these activities – work, education, doctor’s appointments – could move online permanently, at least some of the time. . And as they do, the need for home broadband will become more evident.

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