Broadband Access and Civic Engagement: How Different Sources of Connectivity Impact Community Involvement
Fox, Erica Elise
In recent years, the Internet has been transformed from a niche form of entertainment to an educational tool, a driver of economic growth, and an engine of innovation. Access to high-speed Internet is so highly-prized that the FCC received over 4 million individual comments in support of the principles of Net Neutrality. Businesses, schools, and governments rely on Internet access for their most basic functions, and consumers demand ever greater bandwidth. This study examines whether access to high-speed broadband in any form is associated with the increased likelihood of citizens investing in their communities and engaging in civic life. While previous literature has explored the relationships between fixed-connection broadband access and voting, this study includes mobile broadband access as a comparison, and tests new proxies for civic engagement. Through a quantitative study of data from the FCC's Form 477 and Internet Access Service Report, the American National Election Study, and the Area Health Resource File, this study found positive relationships between access to fixed-connection broadband and civic engagement, as well as positive relationships between mobile broadband and civic engagement. The relationships appear to be stronger for fixed-connection broadband than mobile, suggesting that access is not the only consideration when encouraging civic participation. These findings suggest that government support for increased access to high-speed broadband would be warranted. But they also suggest that citizens might be best served if that access were coupled with programming aimed at closing digital divide, allowing underserved communities ways to invest and engage with their neighbors and local institutions.
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