Report offers roadmap for tapping landmark broadband infrastructure investments to expand broadband access and affordability in Black communities across the rural south
WASHINGTON — Today, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released “Affordability & Availability: Expanding Broadband in the Black Rural South,” a report highlighting the scope of the digital divide for residents in the 152 counties that make up the Black Rural South, detailing the potential for broadband access to increase educational, economic, and health care opportunities for the region’s Black residents and outlining policy recommendations for closing the region’s disproportionately wide digital divide.
The report finds that 38% of African American residents in the Black Rural South lack home internet access, which is nearly double the rate of white residents in the same region (23%). Nationally, 22% of African Americans lack home internet access, as do 18% of all residents. The counties of the Black Rural South include those in rural Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia where at least 35% of the residents are Black.
“The lack of broadband infrastructure magnifies the structural racism that African American families experience in the Black Rural South,” said Dr. Dominique Harrison, director of the Joint Center’s Technology Policy Program and author of the report.
“One of every four Black residents in these communities lack even the option to subscribe to high-speed internet, let alone an affordable one. This means that before we can even consider affordability, Black residents are being shut out of access at shocking rates, and countless more with high prices and insufficient federal support.”
Dr. Harrison also found that 60.8% of residents in the Black Rural South (compared to 28.6% nationally) have incomes less than $35,000, a threshold identified by Pew as making it significantly less likely that a household has broadband access. At least 49% of Black children in the Black Rural South live in poverty, compared to just 18% of white children in the same region and 19% of children nationwide.
With the passage of federal infrastructure legislation, the Joint Center report also highlights key recommendations for policymakers responsible for allocating and managing new investments.
- Establishing a permanent and meaningful broadband benefit program.
- Requiring broadband providers that receive Universal Service Funds to provide low-income households and high-cost-area consumers with an affordable option.
- A federal buildout of broadband infrastructure in the Black Rural South.
- Recovery and infrastructure legislation funds to expand broadband in the Black Rural South.
- A taskforce and rules to prevent digital redlining.
- Prioritizing funding for broadband projects developed by Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“The recovery funds and infrastructure legislation represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to close the digital divide in the Black Rural South,” said Dr. Harrison. “These communities are disproportionately affected by the digital divide and they deserve priority focus as we look to expand access and affordability—especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That must include ending barriers that prevent local, state, and federal policymakers from fostering affordable internet options. From unemployment rates, to income, health outcomes and child poverty, the consequences of continued inaction are too high for Black communities.”