White House Announces Broadband Initiative to Close Digital Divide

In an initiative intended to help close the digital divide, the White House on Wednesday announced a broadband pilot program launching in one tribal nation and 27 cities including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

The pilot program is expected initially to reach approximately 275,000 low-income homes, supporting home broadband Internet access, the White House said. Internet providers, nonprofits and the private sector will offer broadband access, digital literacy programs, devices for residents in assisted housing units, and technical training, according to a White House fact sheet.

ConnectHome, a new initiative with communities, the private sector and the federal government, is the president’s latest attempt to close the digital divide and builds on a similar initiative (ConnectEd) that is on pace to connect nearly all of K-12 students to high-speed Internet in classrooms and libraries by 2018, according to the White House.

Obama was expected to travel Wednesday to Oklahoma to discuss the new initiative with the Choctaw Nation. Poverty-stricken Indian reservations have among the lowest rates of broadband adoption in the country.

While the United States has made progress closing the broadband gap between the haves and have-nots, less than half of the poorest homes subscribe to Internet access, according to the White House, citing an analysis released Wednesday by Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.

The digital divide is found among older, less educated and less affluent populations; the divide is also concentrated in rural America, where citizens tend to have fewer Internet choices, according to the analysis. The most affluent areas generally have home Internet adoption rates of up to 90 percent, while areas with the lowest median incomes have rates of roughly 50 percent, the Council of Economic Advisors found.

“Closing the ‘digital divide’ is among the top challenges facing broadband policymakers and stakeholders today,” Verizon declared Wednesday in a blog. The telecom giant said it has committed up to $100 million for the Obama Administration’s ConnectEd education initiative.

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