However, we also know that many of our patrons rely on libraries for dependable Internet access. Even here in the Bay Area—the center of the tech world—low-income households might not have broadband or WiFi connections. Some do not have computers at home. In addition, tens of thousands of people in the Bay Area are experiencing homelessnessopens a new window.
In other words, there is a digital divide.
Fast Facts About Internet Access Disparity
- Roughly 1 in 4 American adultsopens a new window do not have broadband Internet at home.
- Roughly 1 in 5 American adultsopens a new window rely on a smartphone for Internet access.
- In California:
- 1 in 5 studentsopens a new window does not have internet access or a computer at home.
- Only 55% of low-income householdsopens a new window have high-speed Internet at home.
- Only 59% of those in rural communitiesopens a new window have high-speed Internet at home.
- Only 66% of Latino and 67% of African American householdsopens a new window have high-speed Internet at home.
The Digital Divide and COVID-19
- 87% of Americansopens a new window say the Internet has been important to them during COVID-19, including 53% who say the Internet has been "essential".
- The same Pew Research articleopens a new window claims that "roughly half of Americans with lower incomes are worried about paying their broadband and cellphone bills over the coming months".
- The CA Department of Educationopens a new window has identified a need for over 400,000 devices and 290,000 hotspots.
What Does It All Mean?
The lack of Internet accessopens a new window makes it harder to work from home, use telemedicine services, and stay informed about COVID-19 updates.
Many students are struggling to participate in distance learningopens a new window. They may not have a steady connection for video lectures and homework assignments.
Older students might also find it difficult to apply for scholarships, internships, and other programs. To complete coursework, some are relying on connecting to WiFi in their college or library parking lotsopens a new window.
High-speed Internet is also important for fun and social connections. It can be much harder to stay at home without video get-togethers, eBooks, streaming movies, and other forms of entertainment.
Libraries Help Bridge the Internet Access Gap
Like other libraries around the countryopens a new window, we are working hard to help our communities connect. San Mateo County Libraries has over 550 hotspots checked out to our communities.
KCBS Radio recently released a short news clip highlighting how SMCL is addressing Internet inequalityopens a new window. In addition to boosting WiFi signals in the parking lots of our 12 library locations, we are proud to be distributing reliable devices and hotspots. The library worked with community partners to distribute over 250 hotspots including high capacity WiFi hotspots that were provided to our coastal partners.
San Mateo County Libraries is also participating in a coalition created by the County of San Mateo to address the digital divide. The coalition includes the County of San Mateo, City governments, non-government organizations, and San Mateo County Libraries. The coalition is looking at opportunities to expand WiFi access in our communities.
Back in December, we wrote about partnering with the California Emerging Technology Fundopens a new window, Hagar Services Coalitionopens a new window, and El Concilio of San Mateo Countyopens a new window to promote home broadband adoption.
For even more ways to find a free or lost-cost device and get online, check out this articleopens a new window from KQED.
Please spread the word about these low-cost Internet options. Together, we can keep each other safe, healthy, and informed.