1 1 (March 13, 2020)

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               Researh Sevice

COVID-19 and Broadband: Potential

Implications for the Digital Divide

March 13, 2020
According to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) 2019 Broadband Deployment Report,
approximately 21.3 million Americans lack a broadband connection speed of at least 25 megabits per
second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload, which is the FCC's benchmark for high-speed broadband. In
the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, federal, local, and state governments, in addition to
large and small businesses, are considering remote working or distance learning options to help abate the
spread of the virus. As these decisions are made, some portion of the population will likely have the
option and the capability to shift activities online, while others will not. COVID- 19 mitigation efforts will
likely reveal discrepancies in broadband availability and accessibility-termed the digital divide-across
the United States.

The Digital Divide
The term digital divide refers to the gap between those Americans who use or have access to
telecommunications and information technologies and those who do not. Several factors contribute to the
digital divide disparity, including terrain, population density, demography, and market factors. Even in
areas with broadband penetration, factors such as income can inhibit the ability of individuals to access
broadband. For example, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 44% of adults with household
incomes below $30,000 a year do not have home broadband services. Although broadband access in the
United States has steadily increased over the last 10 years, the digital divide persists. For background on
the digital divide, see CRS Report RL30719, Broadband Internet Access and the Digital Divide: Federal
Assistance Programs, by Colby Leigh Rachfal and Angele A. Gilroy.

Remote Workforce Challenges
Moving an entire workforce from an onsite environment to a remote environment may present some
challenges; including the ability to connect to broadband in the home and the inability of all jobs to be
done remotely. While those who have access to broadband may be able to work remotely and continue
operations uninterrupted, there are many people who cannot perform their work functions from home,
such as those in the restaurant, construction, or hospitality industries. According to the Department of

                                                                Congressional Research Service

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