Disconnected Communities

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City recently released Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide. The report focuses on broadband access, economic impact, and solutions for communities to narrow the digital divide. The digital divide refers to the gap between those with and without access to affordable, reliable broadband and the skills and equipment to utilize it.

Today, many parts of the United States still do not have broadband. Nearly 68 percent of people without broadband at home live in rural communities.

"The report illustrates that the digital divide affects every aspect of community and economic development. Digital access is an issue every community leader should be mindful of, as digital inclusion has become economic inclusion," said Jeremy Hegle, senior community development adviser at the Kansas City Fed.

Disconnected provides a clear overview of the major issues related to the digital divide, written in nontechnical, layperson's terms. The report is based on national data, interviews, surveys, and roundtables. It sheds light on seven themes around the digital divide and how to fix it: awareness, change, rural broadband, increasing broadband adoption, computer skills, equipment, and program evaluation.

Three key findings include:

  • Rural broadband expansion—In the United States, more than 33 percent of all rural residents lack broadband access, versus 4 percent of the metro population.
  • Increased digital skills training—Training for basic digital literacy is the highest priority for many nonprofit organizations. The study shares that jobs with baseline digital skills pay 17 percent more than nondigital roles.
  • Device needs, affordable equipment—Donating used computers can be a low-cost, high-impact way to contribute to the solution. The report found that in Boley, Oklahoma, one computer donation led the town to reestablish a public library after it was closed for a decade. In turn, the library offered free internet.

To close the digital divide, the report recommends evaluating local broadband policies, expanding workforce development programs focused on digital skills, and supporting computer donation programs.

"The digital divide is wide and complex. No one group can bridge the divide alone—not government, banks, businesses, or community organizations. Each of these groups, however, must play a role if the divide is to be narrowed," Hegle states in the report.

The Kansas City Fed will, while supplies last, ship multiple copies for free to groups such as city councils, chambers of commerce, community task forces, and so forth. Contact Kristi Bromagem at Kristi.bromagem@kc.frb.org to request one or more copies. For a PDF version of the report, visit https://www.kansascityfed.org/community/disconnected.

As the regional headquarters of the nation's central bank, the Kansas City Fed and its branch offices in Denver, Oklahoma City, and Omaha serve the seven states of the 10th District: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, northern New Mexico, and western Missouri.