Internet As A Right

Properly understood, full and functional access to the internet is a civil rights issue. The internet is the public conveyance of our generation. Uneven access to broadband in serves to thwart full participation in the economy, society, the job market, commerce, governance, and the information environment. The clearest goal is accessible in-home broadband on a device more usable than a smart phone for each household in Los Angeles. Recognizing that there are a variety of methods to reach a more inclusive level of broadband access, and that we must think in terms of both access and device, the challenges require investment from City, County, and State authorities and a strategy that mobilizes resources from multiple sectors of society.
Properly understood, full and functional access to the internet is a civil rights issue. The internet is the public conveyance of our generation. Uneven access to broadband in serves to thwart full participation
Report Authors

Impacts of COVID-19 on Internet As A Right in Los Angeles County

Educational disadvantages exacerbated by remote instruction drew important attention to the role of the internet in daily life, and what it means to have such uneven access across society. In the educational sphere, severe shortfalls in both equipment and broadband access dramatically limit access to education for low-income and Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and their children. However, this impact is neither new nor unique to education. The internet is now a segment of Main Street in our daily lives. The internet is not only the site of most personal communication and news distribution (itself a critical part of equal membership in society), but it also has a pivotal role in research and teaching that have made it indispensable to the contemporary educational experience, with or without COVID-19. In addition, we should be mindful that a huge portion of American commerce takes place on the web, most interactions with government including car registration payments, property tax payments and other crucial government services.

It is nearly impossible and at an increasing cost to conduct most forms of business over the phone instead of on-line, including utilities, travel, college applications and registration, and on and on. Indeed, even finding the schedules and addresses of brick-and mortar businesses make the web an auxiliary part of in-person commerce. The pandemic has also revealed the importance of the internet as a means to communicate with government agencies and access critical government services and information. An internet connection is an essential tool to access services such as making an appointment at the DMV appointments, applying for Unemployment Insurance, and even attending local government hearings which are now held virtually. As of 2014, 18 percent of Americans reported using the internet to renew their driver’s license or pay their car registration, 13 percent to apply for government benefits, and 11 percent to pay a parking ticket or fine.

The clearest goal is accessible in-home broadband on a device more usable than a smartphone for each household in Los Angeles.

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25 percent of the population is still without access to broadband connection (Public Policy Institute of California 2019).

  • 25% 25%

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25 percent of low-income households without broadband cite affordability as the main obstacle (Public Policy Institute of California 2019).

  • 25% 25%

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A survey conducted by PEW found that 70 percent of Americans report searching online for information about COVID-19 (Anderson and Vogels 2020).

  • 70% 70%

8 Internet As A Right Policy Recommendations

The report puts forward 8 recommendations for policy and practical action.

Declare meaningful access to the internet as a civil rights issue in California.

Call for the City, County, and State to make a policy commitment to 100% meaningful and usable broadband web access in five years’ time.

Broadband service should made available to every household through expansion of, and enrollment in, the existing Lifeline subsidy and an infusion of state and local resources

The provision of every school-child in California with a moderate to low cost device to provide functional access to the web and its resources from home

One-time investment of state-level funds to provide a voucher for the purchase of cost-efficient equipment for households without school aged children, conditioned on income and, like Lifeline, limited to families making 135 percent or less of the federal poverty level income.

Establish the internet as a publicly held utility.

The City or County should become the ISP of first resort at minimum pricing and with broad and generous cross-subsidy programs funded by higher income rate payers.

Use the return of revenue to subsidize machinery purchase vouchers or accomplish goals beyond universal broadband access

Our Streets Our Stories

My last semester of college abruptly moved online because of the pandemic, and my peers and I struggled to adapt to virtual learning.

Never did we consider access to the internet as a key component of student success, but COVID-19 has shown that the two are directly correlated. Those of us without strong wifi often had connection issues during lectures and missed information from the professor, or turned in assignments late because of submission errors, or couldn’t attend class altogether because we weren’t able to log on.

The digital divide has always existed, but COVID-19 greatly emphasized the disparity. We need to provide reliable internet access to all in order to equal out the educational playing field because we now know that success in the virtual classroom largely depends on it.

Community Voice