Given that high-speed Internet provides access to enormous amounts of information, it is now essential that the United States secures it for everyone in order to be globally competitive and innovative. Despite this, a recent report revealed that 18 percent of New Yorkers still do not have the access to broadband.
Broadband refers to the wide bandwidth transmission that enables high-speed, simultaneous exchange of data. In today’s increasingly connected society, broadband is necessary to efficiently navigate through a high volume of information. Under the definition set by Federal Communications Commission five years ago, four megabits per second is a minimum download speed to be defined as broadband. Netflix, for example, recommends that users have download speed of at least 5 Mbps to enjoy high definition streaming. Under this definition, about one out of five New Yorkers still do not have Internet that is fast enough to stream their favorite TV shows without waiting. But beyond streaming video, Internet has dramatically reshaped not only the way we consume creative content but also the way we acquire knowledge and find career opportunities. More people are now dependent on open-access learning tools such as MIT OpenCourseWare and Khan Academy. Those in the job market are also increasingly dependent on online platforms such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Without broadband that is fast enough to handle this volume of data, however, it is very difficult to even access them.
For low-income families especially, a lack of home broadband is a major obstacle to their efforts to escape poverty. Those who do not have broadband at home typically cite high cost as a reason, and research shows that American customers tend to pay more than their counterparts in Asia or Europe for comparable broadband services. The lack of affordable broadband services, therefore, serves to widen the gap in access to information between the rich and poor.
In an effort to address the disparity in Internet access, the New York Public Library will expand its free broadband program that lends wireless devices to low-income families. By the end of this year, the city’s three library systems will lend 10,000 devices to residents who do not have home broadband. The recipients of this expanded program will finally be able to take advantage of the technology that has long been considered as necessity.
However, more aggressive measures must be adopted to improve the broadband connectivity across the nation. Currently, only 73 percent of Americans has access to broadband. In comparison, 94 percent of South Koreans and 93 percent of Bulgarians enjoy the benefits of broadband connectivity. Access to broadband is now a necessity, and the United States needs to catch up.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 27 print edition. Email Kenny Kyunghoon Lee at [email protected]