Broadband in the Black Rural South

Friday, July 23, 2021

Weekly Digest

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of July 19-23, 2021

Kevin Taglang
Taglang

Although Senate Republicans blocked the start of final debate on bipartisan infrastructure legislation this week, Washington remains hopeful that there’s a deal that can get done before the August recess begins. Some new research from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Expanding Broadband in the Black Rural South, highlights the importance of addressing the digital divide—and doing it as soon as possible. The Joint Center examined the overlooked and unique plight of Black residents in rural counties with populations that are at least 35 percent Black (152 counties in 10 Southern states), which the Joint Center refers to as the “Black Rural South.”

As Dr. Dominique Harrison, the Joint Center’s technology policy director, writes, “More than almost any other group, Black communities in the Rural South lack affordable, highspeed, quality broadband—38 percent of African Americans there report they do not have access to home internet. This is driven by both the lack of affordability and availability of broadband services. Expanding broadband could help reduce the deep racial and economic inequalities in education, jobs, and health care in the region.”

According to Federal Communications Commission data, which generally overstates broadband’s reach, providers have failed to deploy broadband infrastructure offering service at speeds of at least 25/3 megabits per second to a greater share of residents in the Black Rural South than other regions. The deployment of faster, quality broadband infrastructure in concentrated higher-income areas—also known as “digital redlining”—facilitates economic and racial disparities.

Of course, broadband adoption depends on more than just availability. Affordability plays a major role, especially for low-income households. According to the Pew Research Center about four-in-ten adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services (43%) or a desktop or laptop computer (41%). And a majority of Americans with lower incomes are not tablet owners. By comparison, each of these technologies is nearly ubiquitous among adults in households earning $100,000 or more a year. Black households in the Black Rural South are much more likely to have incomes under $35,000 and less likely to have broadband.

Recommendations

The Joint Center offers ten recommendations to ensure high-speed, quality broadband is affordable and available in the Black Rural South:

  1. Establish a permanent and meaningful broadband benefit program for lower-income households.
  2. Require broadband providers that receive Universal Service Funds (USF) to provide low-income households and high-cost area consumers with an affordable option.
  3. Federal broadband infrastructure investments should prioritize the Black Rural South.
  4. When distributing recovery funds, Southern states should prioritize broadband expansion in Black Rural South counties.
  5. Launch a task force and create rules to prevent digital redlining.
  6. Prioritize federal funding for broadband projects developed by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  7. Invest in research to understand challenges and to steadily improve broadband access.
  8. Update the federal definition of “high-speed” broadband.
  9. Prohibit state governments from inhibiting local broadband networks.
  10. Increase federal agency coordination and focus on the Black Rural South.

Join the Conversation

The timing of the Joint Center’s research should aid the deliberations in Congress about making broadband more available and affordable throughout the U.S. But the conversation about reaching truly universal broadband is ongoing. On July 28, Dr. Harrison will moderate an all-star panel discussing the challenges and solutions to expanding broadband in the Black Rural South.

The panel includes Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC-6), the House Majority Whip, whose House Rural Broadband Task Force helped articulate the need for rural broadband investment. His Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, introduced in this and the previous Congress, offered an early grand vision of connecting rural America.

Joining Rep. Clyburn is Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks who has consistently advocated for broadband deployment that helps rural communities tap into economic and educational opportunities that may not be close to home, which both encourages young people to stay and attracts new residents and employers.

Benton Institute Board Member and former-FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will also be on the panel. While at the FCC and after, she pushed for affordable universal telephone and high-speed internet access, greater broadband deployment and adoption throughout the nation, and transparency in regulation.

Next Century Cities Executive Director Francella Ochillo will also be part of the discussion, contributing a local perspective. Next Century Cities elevates the voices of local officials who are working to expand high-speed connectivity. Ochillo is an attorney and digital rights advocate who has worked on a variety of technology and telecommunications issues with a specific focus on assessing the impact of policy proposals on unserved and underserved communities.

For more information on the panel, see jointcenter.org/event/webinar-expanding-broadband-in-the-black-rural-south

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

July 25—Fiber Connect 2021 (Fiber Broadband Association)

July 28—Transforming the FTC: Legislation to Modernize Consumer Protection (House Commerce Committee)

July 28—Expanding Broadband in the Black Rural South (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies)

Aug 4—Broadband Infrastructure Program Webinar (NTIA)

Aug 5—August 2021 Open Meeting (FCC)

Aug 5—Broadband Infrastructure Program Webinar (NTIA)

Aug 11—Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Webinar (NTIA)

Aug 12—Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Webinar (NTIA)

Aug 18—Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program Webinar (NTIA)

Aug 19—Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program Webinar (NTIA)

Aug 19—Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States (FCC)

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.


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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
847-328-3040
headlines AT benton DOT org

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