As federal officials debate pouring billions of dollars into broadband access, data suggests many of California’s schoolchildren and adults who preferred to work from home spent the pandemic with sub-par access to high-speed internet, particularly in the state’s least-wealthy counties.
Advocates say that “digital divide” across the United States is due largely to two factors: a lack of internet infrastructure in the country’s rural reaches and the relatively high cost of broadband that has made the service unaffordable for many in urban centers.
In about half of California’s counties — 30 of 58 — measured by a Federal Communications Commission study, broadband access is available to at least 94% of residents. Yet in about half of the state measured by Microsoft — 30 of 58 counties — no more than 46% of households actually have high-speed access, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of Senate moderates have reached a deal on a far-reaching infrastructure plan that would direct $65 billion to increase broadband connectivity from coast-to-coast. Despite the agreement, it’s unclear whether it would address the solutions some lawmakers want to see such as continued broadband subsidies for low-income families, greater competition among wireless providers and continued buildout of high-speed networks in poorer, rural areas.
The Biden administration estimates 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure to provide minimally acceptable speeds.
In California, 5.5% of residents don’t have adequate broadband infrastructure and 59.2% live in areas that have only one internet provider, according to the White House.
Locally, on the FCC and Microsoft measures: In Shasta County, 75% of households could get broadband but 48% actually had it. In Tehama County, 49% of households could get broadband but 17% actually had it.
The proportions of California households that have high speed access varies widely: In Modoc County, it’s just 2%; in Sierra County, it’s 3%; and in Mariposa County, it’s 5%. Leading the state are Santa Clara County with 93%, Orange County with 75% and Contra Costa County with 72%.
A USA TODAY analysis of data nationwide found a wide gap between rich and poor counties, as measured by median household income. The chasm varies depending on state and county.
Among California’s wealthiest counties: 93% of Santa Clara County has access, 62% of San Mateo County has access and 55% of Marin County has access. Among the least-wealthiest counties, access rates are 7% in Trinity County, 25% in Lake County and 17% in Tehama County.
Among the state’s most populated counties: Some 65% of Los Angeles County households have broadband access, as well as 62% of San Diego County households and 75% of Orange County households, the Microsoft data shows.
The complete USA TODAY story on national broadband is available on usatoday.com.
Erin Mansfield and Matt Wynn contributed to this report. The USA TODAY Network is publishing localized versions of this story on its news sites across the country, generated with data from Microsoft, the Federal Communications Commission and the White House.