Broken Bridges, Digital Divides


San Antonio broadband map

The word “infrastructure” conjures up images of bridges and roads. However, telecommunication infrastructure, such broadband internet, is now vital to modern life. Broadband encompasses high-speed internet transmission technologies consisting of cable, fiber, wireless, and satellite connections. Broadband use is increasing, however many cities are still struggling to reduce differences across population groups in their access to this increasingly essential digital service.

Christopher Reddick and colleagues at the University of San Antonio analyzed broadband access and affordability in Bexar county, Texas. Using the Digital Inclusion Survey and Assessment, 18% of respondents reported no access to home internet. The map shows that the southern part of San Antonio has less access to broadband than the northern areas. The darker the shade of blue, the fewer homes have broadband. Unsurprisingly, the map mirrors historical housing policy.

Socioeconomic factors including income, education, and employment impact access to broadband. Broadband access is also influenced by marketplace competition and profitability for providers, both of which directly impact affordability for subscribers. Telecommunication companies won’t invest in areas with low profit potential.

Many telecommunication studies focus on rural-urban gaps. However, this study points out that broadband divides within urban areas further increase the social exclusion of marginalized communities, exacerbating the lack of educational, economic and social opportunity. During the Covid-19 pandemic, limited access to home internet prevented students from attending class remotely.

Other Texas cities have been successful in reducing the digital divide. In Austin, 95% of residents have home internet due to an extensive telecommunications network that resulted in adoption of home broadband. Public-private partnerships can help other cities reduce their digital divides.

Reddick CG, Enriquez R, Harris RJ, Sharma B. Determinants of broadband access and affordability: An analysis of a community survey on the digital divide. Cities. 2020.