Access to high-speed internet can be critical to succeeding in today’s workforce.
Many organizations assume their job candidates and employees have reliable broadband internet at home, but that’s not always true. The push to create more online job applications, training options, and remote work opportunities can exclude people without access to broadband – including people with disabilities.
Broadband can create new opportunities for disabled people to succeed at work. With a reliable internet connection, they can work from home, tap into digital accommodations, and enhance their digital skills. As the workplace continues to evolve, broadband access will become more important than ever. In fact, many experts predict that immersive technologies such as extended reality (XR) will be our next major computing platform. XR tools will require a robust national infrastructure that delivers high-speed internet access to employees and job seekers wherever they live.
Key Insights on Access to Broadband & Disabled Workers
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) released a report on Disability and the Digital Divide in 2022. This research found that:
- Working-aged people with disabilities are less likely to have an internet subscription at home than people without disabilities. Between 2015 and 2019, 73.6% of internet-connected working-age adults without disabilities (ages 25 to 64) had both high-speed internet and a computing device at home, while only 62.0% of working age adults with disabilities did. The group without internet connections identified cost or affordability as their household’s primary barrier to access.
- Between late 2019 and late 2020, disabled workers transitioned from being employed to unemployed or out of the labor force at higher rates than workers without disabilities (even when accounting for age, race and ethnicity, sex, marital status, education, industry, and occupation). This trend occurred during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- During this time, workers who reported using the internet at work (likely with jobs that involve using the internet and computing devices) stayed employed at higher rates than those who reported they did not use the internet at work.
- Workers with disabilities who had some form of internet subscription at home stayed employed at far higher rates than workers with disabilities who did not have an internet subscription at home. For instance, 83.7% of workers with disabilities who had a mobile, satellite or dial-up internet subscription and 81.9% of workers with disabilities who had a cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) or fiber internet subscription at home remained employed, while only 68.2% of workers with disabilities who did not have internet subscriptions at home remained employed.
How Expanding Broadband Access Can Close the Digital Divide
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), was signed on November 15, 2021. Alongside other funding in the package, this law makes $65 billion available to support meaningful broadband use for all Americans. A large portion of this money is going to states and territories to expand broadband deployment for unserved and underserved communities. In addition, this package includes $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which targets helping the most underserved groups get digitally connected.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) oversees these programs. The Digital Equity Act provides $1.5 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, providing states $60 million to create Digital Equity plans and $1.44 billion for implementation. The Act also provides $1.25 billion for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, which separately funds a range of digital inclusion activities such as computer training, device subsidies, and public computing centers at community institutions.
By working to improve broadband access nationally, this legislation offers renewed opportunities to improve the employment rate of people with disabilities. Only 37.6% of adult job seekers with disabilities are in the labor force, compared to 77.5% of those without disabilities.
The infrastructure package covers other aspects of digital equity that impact broadband affordability and make service offerings clearer to customers. It prohibits internet service providers from digital discrimination against people based on personal characteristics or income level. For example, internet service providers may not engage in “redlining” or avoid offering services in areas deemed less profitable. The law also restores Consumer Broadband Labels, which will be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Consumer Broadband Labels offer plain language information about broadband coverage, network speed, pricing, whether prices increase after an introductory period, and other key facts. Finally, the FCC is overseeing the Affordable Connectivity Program to provide discounted broadband services for eligible households.
To learn more about new broadband funding, visit internet4all.gov.