The digital divide in the U.S. closed a bit more last year, but there's still plenty of work to do, according to a quarterly report by BroadbandNow.
For the fourth quarter of last year, BroadbandNow reported that 70% of U.S. residents now had access to a low-cost, wired broadband tier, which it defined as $60 or less per month. As of December, about 59 million residents gained access to a cost-effective internet tier for the first time in 2020.
“The increase – from 52% a year ago – is a positive sign in the on-going efforts to close the digital divide in the U.S.," said Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of BroadbandNow, in a statement.
Rhode Island was still the state with the highest percentage of residents with access to low-priced plans of speeds 100 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload, according to the report.
For the first time, residents in Alaska gained access to low-priced broadband plans, but less than 1% of the population had access. All 50 states plus the District of Columbia now have some level of access to low-priced plans.
While 78% of U.S. citizens now have access to wired providers who report that they can service speeds of 100 Mbps download / 25 Mbps upload, only 30% of Americans have access to low-priced plans at that speed.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how much the digital divide closes once the winners of the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction start building out networks in underserved areas.
The FCC said the bidders that won funding would deploy high-speed broadband to over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses, which accounted for almost 99% of the locations available in the auction. Moreover, 99.7% of the locations will be receiving broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps, with an overwhelming majority (over 85%) getting gigabit-speed broadband.
The FCC previously said it would favor ISPs that could build networks in rural areas that feature gigabit speeds.