America’s Digital Divide: Getting Up To Speed

Millions of Americans lack reliable internet access or struggle to afford it, leaving them without a valuable lifeline during the pandemic. NBC's Liz McLaughlin reports.

(NBC News) — Internet access can be a lifeline, now more than ever, but there are still parts of the country that aren’t up to speed.

Millions of Americans lack reliable internet access or struggle to afford it.

“It is a decision that some families have to make, unfortunately deciding between that connectivity or something like paying their electricity bill,” says Mei Wa Kwong of the Center for Connected Health Policy.

Many are also learning that life without connectivity comes with severe consequences during a pandemic, as work, education, and healthcare increasingly move online.

“Not having access to the Internet and not having access to an advocate who can spend all that time on the Internet for you can be a life or death situation,” says Cynthia Cox of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Most COVID-19 vaccine distribution programs rely on web portals for signups and appointments.

The Federal Communications Commission is working to give subsidies to families that can’t afford internet service and expand access for those that don’t have it, but often, finding those gaps is an issue.

“The problem is in the U.S. there are a lot of people without internet, but the maps that we have aren’t granular enough to actually pinpoint where these people are,” explains CNET’s Shara Tibken.

An entire census block could be considered served, even if only one household has access.

“The good news is they are trying to get more information. The bad news is we’re probably not going to get more detailed maps until at least next year,” Tibken says.

Read more here.