Why do we measure broadband connection?
Access to high-speed broadband, defined by the FCC as a minimum connection speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads, has become critical to community health and economic well-being.(1,2) Reliable, high-speed internet improves access to education and employment opportunities and is associated with increased economic development, higher home values, and higher educational outcomes at both the grade school and high school levels.(2-4) It can also enable people to access health care resources, such as finding a local doctor or connecting to care remotely.(4) For these reasons, lack of high speed broadband can have a negative impact on health outcomes in the short and long term.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns underscored the central importance of broadband access and highlighted the impacts of deep disparities in broadband access across communities.(3) The rural/urban “digital divide” gets a lot of attention, and it is true that metropolitan areas with higher population density often experience higher broadband access.(5) However, in the U.S., urban areas contain a higher share of all unconnected Americans (35%) than do areas that are mostly rural (8%).(5) In urban areas, lack of access to broadband is most frequently due to the cost of subscription, low digital literacy, or lack of in-home computing equipment, as compared to rural areas where the lack of physical infrastructure is often the principal barrier.(6) Lack of access to broadband internet during the pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities for those who are already at higher risk for poorer health outcomes, such as those who are older, have lower incomes, or are less educated.(6-8) Within the largest U.S. cities, for example, people of color represent 75% of those who are unconnected, yet only 61% of the population.(5)
How do we measure broadband connection?
This metric estimates the percentage of households that have connections to high- speed broadband internet in the home. This includes households with cable, fiber optic or DSL connections, and excludes those with satellite or dial-up connections.(9) This metric does not include households who access the internet entirely through cellular data plans.
Strengths of Metric
Limitations of Metric
In the increasingly digital world, improving access to broadband connections at home is critical for reducing disparities in health outcomes.
The metric only includes broadband connection types (cable, DSL, and fiber) with higher (and thus more useful) connection speeds.(9)
This self-reported metric asks households for the type of internet connection they have. Some people may not know how they get their internet.
Not all cable, DSL, and fiber connections are created equal. Some may be faster or slower than others, and this metric does not measure internet speeds or quality. Access to only low-speed or low-quality internet may also have a negative impact on health disparities.
Broadband connection is calculated by the following formula:
Broadband connection = [Households with connections to high speed broadband internet]/Total households x 100
This metric was calculated by aggregating estimates from smaller geographies to the congressional district level. For more information, please refer to the Congressional District Health Dashboard Technical Document.
Estimates for this metric are from American Community Survey data using the S2801 table.
Federal Communications Commission. 2015 Broadband Progress Report. Washington, DC: Wireline Competition Bureau; February 4, 2015 2015.
Conroy T, Deller S, Kures M, et al. Broadband and the Wisconsin Economy. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison: Center for Community & Economic Development;2021.
Langer Hall S. Digital Redlining. In. NC State University: Institute for Emerging Issues; 2020.
Benda NC, Veinot TC, Sieck CJ, Ancker JS. Broadband Internet Access Is a Social Determinant of Health! 2020;110(8):1123-1125.
Siefer A, Callahan B. Limiting Broadband Investment to "Rural Only" Discriminates Against Black Americans and other Communities of Color. In. Columbus, OH: National Digital Inclusion Alliance; 2020.
McCloud RF, Okechukwu CA, Sorensen G, Viswanath K. Beyond access: barriers to internet health information seeking among the urban poor. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA. 2016;23(6):1053-1059.
Reddick CG, Enriquez R, Harris RJ, Sharma B. Determinants of broadband access and affordability: An analysis of a community survey on the digital divide. Cities. 2020;106:102904.
Tomer A, Kneebone E, Shivaram R. Signs of digital distress: Mapping broadband availability and subscription in American neighborhoods. The Brookings Institution;2017.
Federal Communications Commission. Types of Broadband Connections. 2014; https://www.fcc.gov/general/types-broadband-connections.
Last updated: January 24, 2023