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Data show that broadband access equals economic resiliency

Washington, DC (July 8, 2024) – It was a mistake to allow the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to sunset. The program, set up during COVID-19 as part of a federal relief package, helped low-income families and individuals purchase high-speed internet (broadband) at a discounted rate.

More than 23 million households were signed up when it ended in May.

Research shows that losing broadband access not only hurts those families and individuals, it’s actually detrimental for us all, particularly when we see the impact on the economy.

In fact, researchers at Telecom Advisory Services looked at the impact of fixed broadband on economic growth in the United States from 2010 to 2020. 

Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by $20.9 trillion. But according to this study, if broadband adoption and speeds had remained at 2010 levels, the U.S. GDP would have grown by only $19.6 trillion during this time. This is a difference of $1.3 trillion in GDP growth, or a loss of more than 6% of our GDP attributed to broadband growth.

In addition, aggregated consumer surplus in the United States increased to more than $186 billion in 2020 (up from $81.6 billion in 2010) because of increased connectivity.

“Every day, we see how broadband improves people’s lives,” said Chris McGovern, Connected Nation’s Director of Research Development. “From improved health outcomes to more educational and job opportunities, and across the country in the form of this improved GDP growth, broadband impacts American households in a variety of ways.”

Meanwhile, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) looked at the economic impact of “broadband digitization through the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Researcher Jessica Dine wrote in August 2023 that “getting online is no longer optional, and providing financial assistance to U.S. households that can’t afford broadband should be as much a given as food stamps.” 

In her report for the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), Dine pointed to dozens of research articles that support her argument that it’s better to provide access for all.

It enables “jobs, promote resiliency in the face of disasters, and support(s) the massive and growing digital economy,” she wrote.

Dine cites a World Bank study that found that each broadband-enabled job creates between 2.5 and four additional jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis puts the value of the digital economy at $3.7 trillion of the U.S. gross output from 2005 to 2020 and estimates that it accounted for 10.3% of the GDP, and 8 million jobs, in 2021 alone.

It’s not hard to make the leap that digital job markets offer economic resiliency during disasters – such as COVID-19.  Again, the data support that claim.

The economic impact is arguably felt most acutely in those hard-to-reach areas across the United States. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) looked at the impact broadband access and internet have in small, underserved, rural communities.

Researchers found that high levels of broadband adoption in rural communities reduce unemployment growth and positively impact income growth.  

“When I was looking for work, reliable broadband access allowed me to not only search for job openings online, but also find remote employment opportunities that were unavailable locally, and ultimately land a remote job,” noted one participant in the above NLM study. “Remote work has provided me with more options in where I can live and has positively impacted my work-life balance.”

In the April 2021 paper titled, “Broadband for all: charting a path to economic growth,” Deloitte researchers looked at the impact broadband penetration, availability, and speeds had on job growth.

They found that a 10-percentage-point increase in broadband penetration in 2016 would have resulted in 806,000 additional jobs in 2019; that increases in broadband availability lead to job and GDP growth; and that higher broadband speeds drive noticeable improvement in job growth.  

The Biden Administration has promised Internet for All, which was funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. As part of this initiative, leaders list five pillars for why high-speed internet matters — education, health, community, workforce, and, of course, the economy.

They’ve got it right. The economy is a key component of why this matters, but what about those 23 million households who were helped through the ACP?

Of course, some ACP beneficiaries will likely keep their broadband access through other low-income offers from internet service providers, but many won’t.

The truth is — and the data and research support this — we simply can’t afford to leave one American offline, let alone thousands or millions.

Everyone belongs in a Connected Nation©.