Whether you’re living on Planet Trump or firmly planted in Camp Hillary, voting in the next election could be vital to bridging the digital divide. In the 2012 presidential election, it was estimated that only 57.5% of the eligible U.S. population came out to vote. States that have a high voter participation rate also have a higher number of internet users, and while internet access does not fully depend on voter turnout, elected officials could help areas that need broadband access the most. HSI has created a map that estimates the percentage of 2016 internet users, using data from Internet World Stats, to see the correlation with the voter participation rate from 2012.
Top 5 States:Highest voter turnout, highest % of Internet users
Voter Turnout: 72.9%
Internet Users: 94.3%
Voter Turnout: 70.9%
Internet Users: 99.9%
Voter Turnout: 69.3%
Internet Users: 94.1%
Voter Turnout: 66.2%
Internet Users: 98%
Voter Turnout: 65.8%
Internet Users: 97.4%
Bottom 5 States:Lowest voter turnout, lowest % of Internet users
Voter Turnout: 46.3%
Internet Users: 80.1%
Voter Turnout: 49.2%
Internet Users: 77.2%
Voter Turnout: 49.6%
Internet Users: 78%
Voter Turnout: 51.1%
Internet User: 75.9%
Voter Turnout: 54.8%
Internet Users: 77.3%
States that Need Internet Access the Most
Places with high poverty and unemployment rates need help bridging the digital divide. Generally, people who live in the deep south, rural areas, or low income neighborhoods are falling behind in education, jobs, and technological literacy due to lack of broadband access. Mississippi has the least amount of internet users in the country along with one of the worst averages for peak internet connection at 37 Mbps (the highest is Delaware at 75 Mbps).
The Bureau Labor of Statistics’ report from May 2016 showed that five of the bottom ten states ranking for internet coverage also had the highest unemployment rates in the country. Louisiana had an unemployment rate of 6.3% and only 77% of their population use the internet. Other states with high unemployment rates and a low amount of internet users included Mississippi (5.8%), Alabama (6.1%), New Mexico (6.2%), and West Virginia (6.2%).
In 2015, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Louisiana also had some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. In 2013, Obama launched the ConnectED initiative that strives to bring teachers and students the best technology in every part of the country. ConnectED’s studies show that around 40% of schools in the U.S. have access to broadband internet. Moreover, the new generation of kids are now learning to code at a much younger age which could make the gap expand rapidly within the next few years.
States with Poor Voter Turnout
There are a handful of states that have some of the lowest voter participation rates in the country that also have the lowest rate of users (WV, TN, AR, TX, OK). Conversely, states like Maine, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have a high voter turnout and high percentage of internet users. New Hampshire, Maine and Wisconsin all ranked in the top 13 for lowest poverty rate in the country, and consequently West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma fell into the bottom 11 (Texas was in the bottom 11). Most of the states with low voter participation rates also fell into the bottom half for slowest internet in the country.
On the other hand, Michigan has one of the highest voter participation rates and rank 28th for internet coverage, and its citizens in the city of Detroit are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment. Cities like Detroit need to have more of a proactive approach from city officials and the surrounding community. There are many factors attributed to our nation’s poorest areas including income inequality, racism, violence, and drugs. However, it is hard for citizens to make progress in these areas without access to high speed internet.
Although most rural areas are specifically affected by lack of broadband access, some of the most rural states in America including Maine and New Hampshire have the highest percentage of internet users in the nation. Therefore, it is possible to provide rural parts of the country with the internet speed they need.
Access to broadband means access to a wealth of knowledge and opportunities, which allows people to apply for a better job and seek out a better education, and many cities with a high unemployment rate show a strong correlation to a lack of broadband availability. It calls into question what government officials in states like Michigan are doing to help citizens who fall on the wrong side of the divide.
Political Officials and Business Leaders Working to Bridge the Gap
It takes people who lead our cities and states to affect policy and ignite change. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, implemented the Smarter City Task Force to help increase broadband connectivity in a city where 20% of its citizens have no internet at all. Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner at the FCC, is constantly fighting to help communities which lack internet and broadband connectivity: “When it comes to the most vulnerable in our society, we cannot have, nor can we afford to have a disconnected community.”
Lee Rainie heads Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project which brings awareness through research and data to hold internet service providers and government officials accountable.
Investigative journalist, Darnell L. Moore, took a trip through the rural areas of Mississippi, plagued with lack of internet access, to highlight Dr. Robert Gallardo’s mission to bring broadband to rural citizens. However, states need more help from government officials and business leaders who have the capabilities and resources to help bring people into the digital age. Dr. Gallardo states,
“if you guys mobilize your elected officials at least you can get the conversation started, because it is clear to you, and like any other rural community, the carrier just won’t do it.”
There’s people who spread awareness and then there’s people like Estella Pyfrom. Pyfrom set out on a mission to provide internet access to communities absent of technology resources through her project, Estella’s Brilliant Bus. The brilliant bus will be wrapping up its year long Brilliant Minds Tech-Innovation Tour at the end of July.
As Mignon Clyburn puts it, “it’s imperative that we ensure low-income Americans can reap the benefits of 5G and are not left in digital darkness.” The UN has declared high speed internet a human right, and therefore it should be accessible by all citizens of the United States to create equal opportunity across all regions. Moreover, figure out if you are getting the best internet in your area by comparing service providers. It is up to your community to mobilize elected officials to fight for faster internet connection.