One in five Americans have no access to Internet

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

(photo credit: Paul Garland)

One in every five Americans still lack access to a broadband Internet connection. So says a new survey released today by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, an issue we at the California Economic Summit have covered time and time again in our coverage of the Internet-as-infrastructure.

While anecdotes about smartphone proliferation and Facebook usage – the social media behemoth is already used by about one billion people – give the impression of an increasingly connected world, it’s not entirely true. According to the World Bank, 4.5 billion people still don’t even have access to the Internet. It’s spurred Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of bringing the Internet to these nearly five billion people, a lofty goal high on ambition but short on the proverbial infrastructure needed to bring about its achievement.

When 19 percent of Americans are without a broadband connection, it’s clear that this is unacceptable as we move further into the 21st century. Increasingly, opportunities have shifted into an Internet-only realm, where today’s job market is more Craigslist than classifieds. If you’re on the wrong side of the digital divide – the Internet-haves and the Internet-have-nots – you are essentially out of luck. Internet access isn’t just tweeting and Facebook stalking; it’s an economic issue. Just as roads and bridges help transport goods and services, the Internet does the exact same thing, only digitally.

Most of the 4.5 billion people without broadband are outside of the United States, but one in five is still a high number for a developed, first-world nation. How do we bring Internet to the people? Mashable shed some light earlier this week on some of the ideas being kicked around, both realistic and fantastical:

“We could repurpose the television spectrum, often called “Super Wi-Fi” to fill in the gap. Another way is to make clever use of unlicensed spectrum by new software-defined radios.

Also, we could take a tip from the U.S. Navy, which recently began sharing radar frequencies with wireless networks. Or you can address this issue even using balloons to circle the planet and beam down Internet coverage, as Google has proposed to some skepticism.”

If we want to make broadband access a priority, we’ll need innovative ways to pay for such visionary projects. They’re not cheap. The California Economic Summit has made it a goal that we give due diligence to every possibility for funding an infrastructure that desperately needs some attention and make sure we give priority to the right projects, rather than paying for the same things in the same way year after year.

That’s why the Summit is tackling Infrastructure as part of its seven Signature Initiatives for this year. It’s a vital issue for all regions, both urban and rural, and represents the backbone of our economy, which relies on clear connections whether over a road or a copper wire. 


Matthew Grant Anson

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