In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, a record-high 84 percent of Californians are using high-speed internet at home—up 10 percent from 2017. The pandemic has shifted many, if not most, activities to online; Californians are using the internet for activities like accessing financial services, telecommuting, job hunting, distanced academic learning, or virtual job training.
However, according to a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California, there are still significant broadband-access gaps. Broadband subscriptions rates in the African-American (81 percent) and Latino (79 percent) communities are lower compared to the statewide average of 84 percent—with the most affected being adults 65 and older, and anyone living in rural, low-income, and/or less-educated households.
This is further compounded by most households having multiple internet users. The average size of households with school-age children is four people, requiring additional bandwidth for reliable access to distance learning or videoconferences.
There are also demographic gaps in having access to computing devices at home. In 2019, more than 10 percent of Californians did not have a computing device at home such as a desktop or laptop. 20 percent of African American and Latino households, and nearly 200,000 households with school-age children, did not have home access to a device. This limited connectivity may reduce access to telehealth, which significantly affects rural areas since they already face shortages of physicians and mental health providers.
Fortunately, the federal and state governments are actively taking steps to bridge the digital divide. $7 billion of the recent federal stimulus package was dedicated to broadband infrastructure and connectivity. The FCC also awarded $9.2 billion to internet services providers for constructing rural broadband networks over the next 10 years—with California receiving $695 million.
Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in August 2020 requiring state agencies to collaborating in closing the digital divide, having the advantage of federal support.