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New York Digital Divide

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The COVID-19 pandemic has vividly demonstrated the disadvantages of lacking home internet service. One in four (4) households in New York State do not have a foundational tool for internet connectivity – a wireline high-speed internet subscription for their home. These gaps are more pronounced for low-income New Yorkers, older adults, and communities of color. The following data shines a light on access to digital tools in New York State using 2019 American Community Survey data. Key datapoints are as follows:

  • Two million New York households do not subscribe to high-speed wireline internet service at home and some 1.6 million households do not have a computer.
    • Nearly 27% of New York households do not subscribe to wireline broadband service at home.
    • Some 22% of New York households do not have a desktop or laptop computer at home.
  • Poor New Yorkers, older adults, and communities of color have low adoption rates of digital tools.
    • Half of New York’s lowest income residents (those whose annual incomes are $25,000 or less) do not have a wireline broadband subscription and half lack a computer.
    • 40% of older (age 65 and above) New Yorkers do not have wireline subscriptions for internet service and about one-third do not have a computer.
    • One-third of African American and Latino households do not have wireline broadband at home and similar numbers do not have a desktop or laptop computer.
  • Rural New York households are less likely than metropolitan dwellers to have wireline service, but low-income rural New Yorkers struggle affording service in the same way as their counterparts in metropolitan areas.
    • 31% of households in non-metropolitan areas do not have wireline broadband compared with 26% of households in metro areas do not subscribe to wireline service.
    • Low-income households in both areas are much less likely to have wireline service, with half of such households in metro and non-metro areas lacking service.
  • There is significant variation in the adoption of digital tools across the state’s 23 library systems.
    • Lower-income rural areas (e.g., in the western part of the state), as well as some urban library locations (e.g., the Bronx), have home wireline adoption rates that are 20 percentage points lower than wealthier counterparts.
    • Some library systems with low population density and (on average) healthy household incomes have broadband adoption rates above the state average.

Recommendations for closing the digital divide include funding partnerships for digital inclusion, promoting awareness of discount internet offerings, strengthening the state’s role in digital inclusion, and helping enhance users’ digital skills in using the internet and computers. Libraries are not the only institution that will be part of the solution, but they are uniquely situated to anchor it. To that end, libraries will require additional funding for digital inclusion programs and to upgrade the network speeds for library facilities to meet growing demand.

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