Broadband access*

Percentage of households with broadband internet connection.

The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2015-2019 for this measure.

Reason for Including

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 2020, the bipartisan Broadband DATA act was passed by the federal government to improve broadband access and speeds by 2025.[2] Yet, an estimated 19 million Americans lack access to reliable broadband internet.[3] Over half of US counties (57%) experience speeds below the federally defined broadband standard (25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up), but in rural counties this percentage jumps to 65%.[4] However, broadband access is not an issue exclusive to rural areas. Low-income neighborhoods in urban areas have been systematically excluded from broadband service in “digital redlining".[5,6] 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. SNAP). Broadband access can foster social connectedness, particularly among older populations, reducing the burden of social isolation, strengthening community support, and decreasing loneliness.[7]

Key Measure Methods

Broadband Access is a percentage

Broadband Access is the percentage of households with a broadband internet connection through subscription.

Numerator

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?” 

Denominator

The denominator is the total number of households in a county.

Measure limitations

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 personal interest (e.g. older adults are less likely to purchase home internet), and this metric is unable to untangle these specific barriers.  

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.

Data Source

Years of Data Used

2015-2019

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.

Digging Deeper
Age 0
Gender 0
Race 0
Education 0
Income 1
Subcounty Area 1

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.

References

[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] GAO, Recovery Act: Broadband Programs Are Ongoing, and Agencies’ Efforts Would Benefit From Improved Data Quality, GAO-12-937 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 14, 2012).
[3] Federal Communications Commission. Eighth Broadband Progress Report. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/eighth-broadband-progress-report.
[4] Perrin A. Digital gap between rural and nonrural America persists. Pew Research Center. May 31, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/31/digital-gap-between-rural-and-nonrural-america-persists/ 
[5] Broadband and COVID-19. JHU Center for Applied Public Research. https://appliedresearch.jhu.edu/food-insecurity-and-covid-19/broadband-and-covid-19/
[6] Hall SL, Lancaster C. Digital Redlining. NC State University: Institute for Emerging Issues. https://iei.ncsu.edu/2020/digital-redlining/
[7] Hudson RB. Lack of Social Connectedness and Its Consequences. Public Policy & Aging Report; 27(4): pages 121-123. January 13, 2018. 

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