Broadband access initiatives

Program basics

  • Provide low-income residents and/or students with broadband access through in-home hardware installation and ongoing internet service delivery at a partially or fully subsidized rate.
  • Often address a wide range of goals, including connecting students to remote learning, helping residents access telehealth services, and supporting residents employment needs (such as applying for jobs, conducting interviews, and researching opportunities).
  • Many broadband access initiatives are often supplemental digital equity efforts, such as programs providing residents with subsidized laptops and mobile devices, and/or digital literacy courses.
  • Broadband access initiatives can be managed by local governments, school districts, internet providers, community-based organizations, and more. Some successful models are administered by a partnership between the aforementioned groups.

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Promising (Third-highest tier)

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Promising (Third-highest tier)

Broadband access initiatives are not yet represented in major clearinghouses but are broadly recognized by experts as being an important contributor to upward economic mobility.


Target population

Low- and moderate-income adults and families

Program cost

Variable

Implementation locations

Dates active

1990s-Present

Outcomes and impact

  • Note: This section will be updated as research is published on the impacts of broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic, including on educational attainment, remote employment, and more.
  • Increasing broadband access is associated with regional economic growth, higher incomes, and lower unemployment rates.
  • Unreliable broadband service is associated directly with diminished K-12 educational outcomes, including lower GPAs and lower rates of homework completion. A lack of high-quality home internet service is also indirectly associated with reduced SAT scores, a lower likelihood of post-secondary enrollment, and pursuit of STEM careers.
  • Broadband access is associated with a wide range of positive physical and mental health outcomes (primarily as a result of telehealth services), especially among low-income residents, mobility-limited residents, and residents of rural communities.

Keys to successful implementation

  • Prioritize interventions capable of addressing both physical and cost barriers to broadband access. Within a single community, some households may lack appropriate infrastructure (like wiring), while others may determine that the cost of the internet is too high. Many may face both challenges at once.
  • Collaborate with partners across sectors, including local businesses (including public and private internet providers, nonprofits, school administrators, and more). Partners may contribute a variety of functions, including fundraising, community engagement and recruitment, customer service, and, in the case of internet providers, broadband access itself.
  • Prior to program launch, clearly identify a specific target population (i.e. families with low-incomes, high school students, etc.) and set concrete eligibility criteria (such as free/reduced price-lunch recipients, TANF, etc.). Doing so informs program cost, additional staffing needs, and scale of and strategies for recruitment campaigns.
  • Prioritize investment in robust customer service capacity, including hiring additional customer service representatives who can answer questions in real time for new clients, and technicians to install routers rapidly and at scale.
  • Conduct outreach to program-eligible families in partnership with schools and community-based organizations; incorporate recruitment for broadband access initiatives into larger community engagement and trust-building efforts.
  • Supplement broadband access initiatives with digital equity initiatives, including digital literacy programs and subsidized devices (laptops, tablets, etc.).

HCS EdConnect - Chattanooga, TN

HCS EdConnect - Chattanooga, TN

HCS EdConnect: Connecting families to no-cost, high-speed internet in Chattanooga

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