6 Broadband Research Reports You Can’t Miss
March 19, 2020


By Alicja Johnson, communications manager, SHLB Coalition

In a 6-day span earlier this month, a number of broadband leaders issued significant research reports exploring the digital divide. The more that we broadband advocates know about the state of U.S. broadband connectivity, the better equipped we are to advance digital equity for all. These six reports all offer valuable insights to strengthen our “advocacy toolbox,” which is why the SHLB Coalition recommends giving them a thorough perusal.

I’ve done my best to summarize the key learnings from each report below, but I can’t possibly capture all the nuances and complexities of the carefully thought-out research. My hope is this blog will whet your appetite and inspire you to dig into each report.

+ View Key Takeaways

Digital Prosperity: How Broadband Can Deliver Health and Equity to All Communities

Date Published: February 27, 2020

Authors: Angela Siefer and Bill Callahan, National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA); Adie Tomer and Lara Fishbane, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution (Brookings Metro)


NDIA and Brookings Metro undertook a year-long research effort to understand the correlations between broadband, health, and equity. The “Digital Prosperity” report digs into the gaps in broadband access and adoption, evaluates the market and policy forces causing these gaps, and outlines what policymakers at every level of government can do to bridge them.


Key Takeaways

  • Broadband is the country’s most inequitable infrastructure. While 99.6 percent of households have complete plumbing, 15 percent of households do not subscribe to any internet service that’s faster than dial-up. 

  • Researchers consistently find that communities of color and low-income communities are least likely to have broadband. 

  • Systemic barriers to broadband adoption include the lack of competitively-priced broadband, insufficient digital skills among many adults, and “digital redlining.” 

  • Broadband and the digital services it enables are intrinsically tied to collective health and equity outcomes. 

  • To improve broadband’s physical reach, policymakers must incentivize private investment in riskier geographies, fund public networks, or take on a hybrid approach.

  • The public sector should make broadband more affordable with direct subsidy programs and by compelling private companies to offer affordability policies in order to receive a grant, among other things.

  • Policymakers can harness a network of public, private, and civic partners to boost digital skills. 

  • Disconnected populations must be aware of the systemic barriers to universal broadband adoption. Building coalitions, targeting impacted institutions, contextualizing broadband access within stakeholder goals, and communicating measurable impact are all strategies to reach key actors.


View the Report 


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How States Are Expanding Broadband Access

Date Published: February 27, 2020

Authors: Anne Stauffer, Kathryn de Wit, Anna Read, and Dan Kitson, The Pew Charitable Trusts


The Broadband Research Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts examined state broadband programs throughout the country, finding many commonalities and differences across the board. Building on over 300 interviews with broadband stakeholders, their report explores “promising practices” in closing broadband gaps on a state level. Policymakers can learn from these practices and adapt them to fit their own state’s needs.


Key Takeaways

  • In addition to the “promising practices,” Pew found several commonalities related to leadership and staffing that contribute to the success of state broadband programs. 

  • States facilitate stakeholder outreach and engagement by working with a broad range of entities, collaborating with state-level partners, and engaging local stakeholders.

  • States create policy frameworks by defining a clear policy direction, addressing identified policy barriers, and marrying broadband to other policy priorities.

  • States plan and build capacity by adopting state broadband plans and supporting local and regional planning efforts.

  • States fund and structure broadband grant programs in different ways.


View the Report 


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Understanding the True State of Connectivity in America

Date Published:March 1, 2020

Author: National Association of Counties (NACo)


NACo and partners developed TestIT, a mobile app that collects user-reported data on cellular and broadband internet. Using this data, they identify areas with low or no connectivity.


Key Takeaways

  • Sixty-five percent of counties experience the internet at levels below the FCC standard for broadband. 

  • About 60 percent of counties experience fixed-wireless internet below 25 mbps.

  • Over 65 percent of counties experience the internet at speeds slower than levels reported by the industry.


View the Report 


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Best and Worst States for Internet Coverage, Prices and Speeds, 2020

Date Published:March 3, 2020

Authors: Tyler Cooper and Julia Tanberk, BroadbandNow Research


BroadbandNow collected pricing and speed data on 2,000 U.S. internet service providers, which they synthesized with publicly available datasets and their own previous research. This particular report ranks all 50 U.S. states by the strength of their broadband ecosystems. The rankings stem from a comprehensive formula that evaluates overall levels of broadband access, pricing, and average download speeds.


Key Takeaways

  • New Jersey has the strongest broadband ecosystem, with 98.1 percent wired broadband coverage, 78.4 percent low-priced access, and 174.3 Mbps average speedtest. 

  • Alaska ranks in last place, with 60.8 percent wired broadband coverage, no low-priced access, and 58.6 Mbps average speedtest. 

  • Connecticut scores highest in wired broadband coverage, at 98.3 percent. 

  • Rhode Island scores highest in low-priced plan access, at 88.5 percent. 

  • Maryland has the highest average speedtest, at 196.2 Mbps.


View the Report 


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Broadband and Student Performance Gaps

Date Published: March 3, 2020

Authors: Keith N. Hampton, Laleah Fernandez, Craig T. Robertson, Johannes M. Bauer, Michigan State University.


The Quello Center at Michigan State University and Merit Network sought to understand the repercussions of insufficient home broadband access on student performance. Over a one-month period in 2019, 3,258 students from 15 predominantly rural school districts in Michigan participated in the study. Researchers examined how differences in the type and quality of home connectivity relate to school performance and other outcomes for middle and high school students.


Key Takeaways

  • Students who do not have access to home broadband or are dependent on cellular internet access perform lower in digital skills, homework completion, and grade point average.

  • Students who do not have access to home broadband or are dependent on cellular internet access are less likely to pursue a college or university degree.

  • Poor internet connectivity has repercussions beyond the inability to complete homework assignments. In many cases, students will possibly be disadvantaged for life.


View the Report 


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Bridging Digital Divides Between Schools and Communities

Date Published: March 2, 2020

Author: Nicol Turner Lee, Brookings Institution


Several communities have exceptional broadband in their schools while lacking comparable connectivity and digital resources at libraries, houses of worship, and other public facilities. Brookings examines how this impacts students’ ability to share the digital experiences they learn in school with the community. To answer this question, Dr. Turner Lee collected data from beneficiaries of the ConnectED initiative – two different schools in Marion, Alabama, and Phoenix, Arizona. Her research and analysis offers three proposals to enhance connections between schools and communities.


Key Takeaways

  • Cities/localities should make community internet access available 24/7 to low-income students and their communities.

  • Intergenerational projects between schools and local communities can foster broadband adoption and use.

  • Policymakers, state education officials, and educators should develop indicators that assess how technology affects student/parent/teacher engagement, as opposed to stringent metrics like student grades, test scores, and college enrollment.


View the Report 


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