Percentage of households with broadband internet connection. The 2023 County Health Rankings used data from 2017-2021 for this measure.
Access to reliable, high-speed broadband internet improves access to education, employment, and health care opportunities and is associated with increased economic development.1 In 2021, the federal government enacted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act under Sec. 60102—Grants for Broadband Deployment to provide grants for places and institutions that lack broadband access to improve their broadband quality services, such as speed, reliability, and consistency, by the end of the fiscal year 2026.2 Yet, an estimated 19 million Americans lack access to reliable broadband internet.3 On average, half of U.S. counties experience speeds below the federally defined broadband standard of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.4 Broadband access is not an issue exclusive to rural areas. Low-income neighborhoods in urban areas have been systematically excluded from broadband service, referred to as “digital redlining."5 Broadband access is required to efficiently support employment opportunities, workforce development, education, health care (telehealth), and access to/enrollment in state and federal programs (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).4 Broadband access can foster social connectedness, particularly among older populations, reducing the burden of social isolation, strengthening community support, and decreasing loneliness.6
Data and methods
American Community Survey, 5-year estimates
The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey designed to provide communities with a fresh look at how they are changing. It is a critical element in the Census Bureau's reengineered decennial census program. The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years, and publishes both one-year and five-year estimates. The County Health Rankings use American Community Survey data to obtain measures of social and economic factors.
Key Measure Methods
Broadband Access is a percentage
Broadband Access is the percentage of households with a broadband internet connection through subscription.
Broadband Access measures access at any speed; yet, not all broadband is fast enough to meet the needs of all households. Adequate minimum speeds to effectively access all content types (e.g. streaming videos or virtual classrooms) may vary according to a given household. In addition, this measure does not account for the reasons why a household does not have broadband access. Barriers to broadband access could be due to insufficient infrastructure, cost, or lack of personal interest (e.g. older adults are less likely to purchase home internet), and this metric is unable to untangle these specific barriers.
The numerator is the number of households in a county with a broadband internet subscription of any type (e.g., cable, DSL, fiber-optic, cell phone, or satellite) at their place of residence. The numerator includes affirmative responses to the ACS question: “At this house, apartment, or mobile home- do you or any member of this household have access to the Internet?”
The denominator is the total number of households in a county.
Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress
This measure can be used to track progress. It is important to note that the estimate provided in the County Health Rankings is a 5-year average. However, for counties with a population greater than 20,000, single-year estimates can be obtained from the resource listed below.
Finding More Data
Disaggregation means breaking data down into smaller, meaningful subgroups. Disaggregated data are often broken down by characteristics of people or where they live. Disaggregated data can reveal inequalities that are otherwise hidden. These data can be disaggregated by:
- Subcounty Area
Data for additional ways to connect to the internet, detailed geographies (census tract level), and by household income are available through ACS (Table S2801). Other data sources such as MLab, Microsoft, and the FCC provide additional information on internet speed, number of provider options, cost, and for other smaller geographic units.
1 Conroy T, Deller S, Kures M, Low S, Glazer J, Huyke G, and Stark C. Broadband and the Wisconsin Economy. The Wisconsin Economy Series 7. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension. 2021.
2 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Division F—Broadband. Title I—Broadband Grants For States, District Of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Territories. Sec. 60102. Grants for broadband deployment, 117th Cong., H.R. 3684. (2021-2022).
3 Federal Communications Commission. Eighth Broadband Progress Report. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/eighth-broadband-progress-report.
4 National Association of Counties (NACo). Understanding the True State of Connectivity in America. National Association of Counties (NAC0); Land O’Lakes Inc.; Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); National Association of Development Organizations (NADO); Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP); Farm Credit; 2020.
5 Hall SL, Lancaster C. Digital Redlining. NC State University: Institute for Emerging Issues. https://iei.ncsu.edu/2020/digital-redlining/
6 Hudson RB. Lack of Social Connectedness and Its Consequences. Public Policy & Aging Report; 27(4): pages 121-123. January 13, 2018.