Treat broadband as a utility — like water and electricity — and give Miamians the tools they need to make the most of it.
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How can we ensure every family in Miami-Dade has access to broadband internet — and the means to use it?
… and 26 organizations
It’s 2040, and every resident of Miami-Dade County has access to affordable broadband internet. Miamians can also leverage inexpensive, multilingual resources that have helped them learn, from childhood, how to harness the full power of broadband internet.
The county’s connectedness burnishes its image as a great place to start a tech company, and several have grown out of platforms pioneered by local users. No neighborhood is left behind, as residents are connected to job opportunities, education, training, and civic life through their electronic devices.
Why it matters
The world is moving online. The pandemic accelerated the shift, as jobs moved into homes and “digital natives” thrived. Even as students return to the classroom, homework assignments and resources remain online. Many jobs can still only be done in person, but the ones that pay best require training that is increasingly found online.
High-speed internet drives economic mobility and creates and elevates economic opportunity, according to The Miami Foundation's Jorge Gonzalez. Universal broadband access could unlock the creative and economic potential of Miami and its residents. A lack of internet access makes it difficult to search for jobs, take classes to learn new skills, and apply for loans.
It’s a competitive advantage. Companies and professionals are flocking to Chattanooga, Tenn., a city touted for having the best broadband in America. South Korea’s broadband penetration has made it a global hub of the video game industry. Estonia, which has had electronic voting since 2005, offers digital nomads the ability to register and run a global company entirely online.
Broadband access has long been treated as a luxury for those willing to pay for it, since the pandemic. But it has become much more like a utility, as necessary as water or power to survive in the modern world. In 2016, the UN declared that access to the internet is a human right.
Where are we now?
Despite an abundance of private broadband providers in the county, many Miamians still aren’t connected. U.S. Census data from 2019 shows that over 23% of Miami-Dade County residents don’t have a broadband internet subscription, and a 2019 study by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance found that 29% of the City of Miami’s households don’t have internet connectivity at all.
Affordability is a major factor. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, roughly 60% of adults living in households earning $100,000 or more annually have home broadband services, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop computer, and a tablet. Conversely, 13% of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year do not have access to any of these technologies at home. Over 20% of households in Miami-Dade County are below the $30,000 annual income level.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to close the gap. Since the start of the pandemic, federal funds have flowed into programs meant to help families subsidize the purchase of services and devices, help schools and libraries build out internet access, and build out networks in rural areas. Pending legislation includes billions more for broadband infrastructure.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit and Affordable Connectivity Programs give eligible households a discount of up to $75 per month toward broadband service, in addition to one-time discounts on computers or tablets. But as of September 2021, about 80% of families who qualify for the benefit haven’t applied.
There are also federal programs that state and local governments can utilize. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will help bridge the digital divide by reducing consumer prices, building out network infrastructure, and funding digital skills programming.
Schools and libraries can help bridge the gap. They have access to federal funding from the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, which will cover the costs of laptops, tablets, hotspots, and more for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons.
We’re also seeing movement on the local level. Programs like Miami Connected are giving Miami-Dade County Public School students access to broadband internet, providing access to digital literacy tools, and helping residents use technology to build career success.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed the Senate in August 2021, might be a game-changer. It includes $65 billion to bring affordable, high-speed broadband to every American. This would be a state-led effort, with private companies, cooperatives, local governments, and nonprofit organizations all eligible to apply for state grants to carry out the work.
(See the Ground Game section for more examples of organizations working on the ground!)
It’s difficult to build a comprehensive picture of the county’s biggest needs, but some resources may help.
This map by The Children’s Trust shows how many children and households in Miami-Dade County don’t have broadband access
This data map from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance gives us a look at broadband access by community (as of 2019).
The Federal Communications Commission Broadband Deployment Report shows that just under 14.5 million Americans still live without broadband access
LightBox’s Nationwide Internet Connectivity Map also visualizes how many households in America lack access to broadband, using U.S. Census data.
A report from GoDaddy’s Venture Forward program identifies Miami’s lack of widespread internet access as a key threat to our city’s status as a small-business hub.
For a look at the potential impacts of universal broadband and other key data points, look at The NYC Internet Master Plan by advisory firm HR&A. Pew Research Center’s Broadband Internet Factsheet also explores patterns of internet and home broadband adoption in the United States.
“We have much work to do to ensure that everyone can take advantage of the internet's tools to improve their personal and professional lives. The pandemic demonstrated access is not fairly doled out and widened the digital divide. However, the solution isn't big carriers doing more. Instead, I believe the answer is for nimble private companies to fill the gaps, democratize access and help every community go entirely online. Our future and our children's futures depend on it.”
“The internet in some ways is the most important kind of utility we have in our lives. It’s for families trying to do work, it’s for families trying to go to eviction hearings to make sure they can stay in housing. It’s for telehealth so they can get access to health care needs without putting themselves and their families at risk. There was a study last year that over 3 million students just disappeared from the schools’ rosters. That wasn’t 3 million students who couldn’t attend classes, that was 3 million students schools just have no idea what happened to.”
“I think the magic will happen if we as a community come together and coalesce around that and see who's doing what: so if the county is doing one part, the school district can complement in a different way, cities in a different way, and Miami Connected, through philanthropic funding, in a different way. Then we can approach it as one puzzle that comes together instead of as segmented pieces...
We don’t want these opportunities to go under-utilized; if we show and validate that there's a need for it, we’ll make a case for additional opportunities, and normalize a space of increased opportunity for everyone. So that, I think, should be top of mind for everyone.”
“We have the wherewithal as a country to solve this problem in the next four years. I would almost say shame on us if we fail.”
Programs like Miami Connected give some Miami students access to broadband internet; provide access to digital literacy tools, and help residents use tech to build career success. In addition, Mexican American Council serves a large migrant community in South Dade with digital skills training through its Adult Literacy Program (email them for more details), and Sant La, an anchor organization in Little Haiti, is offering digital skills training in Haitian Creole.
Nationally, EveryoneOn works to connect underserved communities to affordable internet service, computers, and digital skills training; its flagship program for K-12 students is known as Connect2Compete. Additionally, Code.org is working to give American K-12 students the opportunity to learn computer science.
Miami-based startup Wayru is developing a web3 platform to bring internet connectivity to underserved communities. The startup has raised a $1.96 million seed round to launch its service in Ecuador. However, the decentralized nature of Wayru’s infrastructure means that it could be easily deployed globally, including in Miami.
Is anyone missing from this list? Let us know.
Take a deep dive into the issue with these stories and soundbites:
Jorge Gonzalez, digital access director at The Miami Foundation, sat down with the Opportunity Miami team to explain the current state of broadband access in Miami, and how we can ensure everyone has access. See our full conversation here. Also read his guest essay, in which he argues that expanding internet access will play a key role in removing barriers to tech opportunities.
The Underline is transforming the Greater Miami community — and soon, communities across the entire linear park will have free continuous access to broadband wifi. Breanna Faye, chief technology officer of The Underline, shares more about their work in our On Site video series. The 10-mile project will greatly impact surrounding communities.
Blair Levin, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former FCC executive, joined our podcast to discuss the Infrastructure Bill’s transformational opportunity to end the digital divide.
Refresh Miami’s Nancy Dahlberg takes a deep look at Miami’s digital divide and explores how Miami Connected’s new program could help bridge the gap for local students. A BBC story explores how the digital divide is “locking children out” of education, and a Fortune piece takes a look at how bridging the digital divide requires input and buy-in from both private industry and the government.
Quartz Magazine shares how Chattanooga, Tenn. is a new benchmark for city-owned broadband, touting it as the best connection in the country.
LA Times columnist David Lazarus shares why broadband internet should be treated like a utility; and In a Forbes op-ed, Bart Van Aardeene, CEO of Terranet Communications, shares his take on how private networks can close the digital divide and democratize broadband access for all.
President Biden’s recently released, $45 billion “Internet for All” initiative aspires to bring broadband access to everyone in the US by 2029. Learn more about the plan in this overview article. For further insights on the steps, we can take to give all Americans internet coverage, see this research brief from the Brookings Institution.
Solve for the future
Accessible broadband requires steps to close the digital divide.
We must treat broadband as a utility — like water and electricity — and give Miamians the tools they need to make the most of it. To achieve universal broadband by 2040, a wide range of players need to collaborate.
Government: Local governments should invest in broadband infrastructure to ensure their communities have the physical resources to access high-speed internet. It’s also important that state, local, and municipal governments align their efforts with each other, and look to other communities for best practices, says The Miami Foundation’s Jorge Gonzalez. Plus, government leaders can support digital literacy programs; the federal government should also continue to fund increased broadband access and infrastructure.
Libraries and schools: Libraries can play a meaningful role in building digital literacy and ensuring residents have access to resources. From providing physical tools, like laptops and tablets, to helping residents feel comfortable online, libraries, schools, and other public spaces have an important role in Miami — especially in underserved communities.
Broadband providers: Broadband providers are the main arbiter of access; from infrastructure to service, they control the field. Currently, many ISPs have low-cost digital offerings for those who qualify (see a list here). If broadband providers are to help close the digital divide, it’s critical that they commit to reaching underserved areas with infrastructure and service commitments.
Other private companies: Large and small private companies can all take important steps to help close the digital divide, says Bart Van Aardeene, CEO of Terranet Communications. If private companies help build infrastructure and find ways to increase access to underserved communities, they’ll also serve themselves by building a broader, more active customer base in cities.
What can you do today?
If you want to help people you know get internet access: Connect them with existing resources. From helping them apply for federal aid to teaching them to use technology, you can connect the people around you with valuable tools. Often, comfort is a big barrier to access and adoption, says the Miami Foundation’s Jorge Gonzalez, so normalizing the use of technology for individuals could help make a big difference in their lives.
If you want to make broadband more widely available: Look at the organizations we’ve listed in the Ground Game section of this thread. If there are any doing work you believe in or are excited about, contact them and see where they need help and support.