- Seattle residents have greater internet access than ever before, according to a new report, with nearly 95% of households in the city connected — but there is more work to be done to improve digital equity.
- The 2018 Technology Access and Adoption Study found home internet access has increased 10% since the last report conducted in 2014. But the study found 21% of households with income under $25,000 do not have home internet access, and almost one in four residents say they do not use the internet due to issues over cost, speed and confusing service plans.
- “Thanks to the Technology Access and Adoption Study, we know our low-income and insecurely-housed communities are experiencing lower levels of connectedness — and their digital skill levels are suffering as a result,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
City officials said the report’s latest findings show “progress” is being made toward closing the digital divide in Seattle, although they acknowledge there is still a long way to go. Ensuring equitable access to the internet has become increasingly important to cities in the past few years, as it can help residents obtain better jobs, study at home and even access technology such as telehealth. But with telecom companies sometimes reluctant to build out service in low-income areas for fear of not getting a return on their investment, the digital divide remains an issue in cities.
This report’s findings are like that of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent draft Broadband Deployment Report, which found more homes have access to fixed broadband internet, although there are still significant numbers that do not. Despite 19.4 million Americans still lacking access to broadband, FCC Chair Ajit Pai said it shows that broadband is deploying in a timely fashion, although detractors including Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel disagree and say more must be done.
There are many suggestions for reducing the digital divide further, with some looking to the introduction of 5G as a possible game-changer, including for rural communities. And while Seattle is on the forefront of efforts to appeal an FCC ruling streamlining the deployment of 5G infrastructure, some of the findings in this survey will be troubling for leaders, especially the statistic that 21% of households that live in poverty lack even basic access.
While some have called for municipal internet to help address that disparity, reducing unconnected households in a city regarded as a hub for technology should be a high priority, however it is done.