Disconnected: Unequal Access to Internet in the NY Region


When we think about infrastructure, we typically think about subways, bridges, water tunnels and power plants.  We don’t necessarily talk about the fiber-optic cables that connect us to the internet and other people through our phones and computers.

But our internet infrastructure – and who has access to it – is likely to be as critical to defining the future of the region as our transportation, water and energy systems have been in the past.  High-speed internet is what enables us to do simple tasks like finishing homework or searching for a job.  In the future, the importance of internet infrastructure will only continue to grow as basic services and support are more often delivered digitally.

And just as the internet has become more integrated into daily life, we continue to see “digital deserts” where there is limited access to quality connections or where the cost of high-speed options is out of reach.

In the New York region, over 40% of poor and low-income households lack a wired high-speed internet connection (copper or fiber-optic based) at home. The map above shows how these disparities play out at the community level by depicting the share of homes that have a wired connection to high-speed internet. It shows households with at least 10 Mbps downstream – likely enough for basic browsing and some video streaming but not for more advanced uses.

It is past time for urban planners and infrastructure professionals to think about internet infrastructure the same way they think about other types of infrastructure. RPA’s fourth regional plan, to be released this fall, will explore how best to ensure equal access to the internet in the New York region in a digital century.

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