By KIM BELLARD
Here’s a question that we don’t often ask: which is the U.S. more likely to accomplish – getting everyone health insurance, or broadband? Hint: it’s probably not what you think.
The health insurance part of it is often debated. We passed ACA, but the number of uninsured stubbornly remains at nearly 30 million, almost 10% of the population. Still, except for residents of those 12 states that have refused to pass Medicaid expansion, everyone in the country has at least access to public or private health insurance, with subsidies available to many.
Broadband hasn’t been around as long a health insurance, but it has become an integral part of our society, as the pandemic proved (ever try remote work or learning without broadband, much less telehealth?). Unfortunately, some 20 million households lack broadband; assuming an average household size of about 2.5, that’s some 50 million people, which is way more than the number of uninsured.
Welcome to the digital divide.
Everyone seems to agree increasing access to broadband is a good goal. It’s part of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan, and even many Republicans support some funding towards the goal, as in a recent bipartisan proposal.
We often think about the issue as being a rural problem, similar to the problem of electricity availability in rural areas before the Rural Electrification Act (1936). It’s just hard, or at least expensive, to wire all those vast spaces, those farms and small communities that comprise much of America.
The fact of the matter, though, is that of those 20 million households without broadband, some 15 million of them are urban households. A higher percent of rural households may lack broadband, but, in terms of actual numbers of households lacking it, it is urban dwellers. For the most part, broadband is available in their neighborhood; they just can’t afford it (or don’t see the need).Continue reading…