President Obama’s Broadband Initiative Will Attempt to Bridge the Nation’s Growing Digital Divide

Categories: Media & Technology, News

The digital divide is large and shows no signs of decreasing. It compounds the racial disparities found in education and household earnings and impacts heavily on standard of living. The broadband initiatives contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) could help to bridge that gap by making the internet more accessible to all Americans.

Blacks and Latinos are much less likely to have access to home computers than are white, non-Latinos (50.6 and 48.7 percent compared to 74.6 percent in 2003). They are also less likely to have internet access at home (40.5 and 38.1 percent compared to 67.3 percent). According to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund report “Are We Really a Nation Online? Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Access to Technology and Their Consequences,” data suggests that teenagers who have access to home computers are 6 to 8 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than teenagers who do not have home computers.

The Recovery Act appropriated $7.2 billion to the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to invest in broadband infrastructure and access. This has led to the creation of two programs with different aims: the RUS Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), which will make loans and grants for broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas; and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which will provide grants to fund broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and sustainable broadband adoption projects.

By expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved communities across the U.S., increasing jobs, and encouraging investments in technology and infrastructure, policymakers hope there will be a long-term economic benefit to the whole nation. NTIA and RUS have hosted and continue to host a series of broadband workshops in order to better understand the broadband marketplace as well as the social implications and potential of broadband. These workshops are being organized in rural and urban locations that represent a diversity of regions, populations, topographies, and city size. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) encourages anyone interested to respond to the facts and reasoning asserted during these workshops, or to raise facts and reasoning that should have been discussed.


  • Responses to workshops held from August 6 to August 20 should be filed with the FCC by September 15.

  • Responses to workshops held from August 25 to September 15 should be filed with the FCC by October 2.

  • Responses to workshops held from September 16 to October 20 should be filed with the FCC by October 30.