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Millions of Californians Risk Losing Internet Service If Congress Lets Program End

Millions of Californians Risk Losing Internet Service If Congress Lets Program End

The Google logo atop an office building in Irvine, Calif., on August 7, 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Kimberly Hayek

Kimberly Hayek

4/29/2024

Updated: 4/29/2024

Millions of Californians may lose access to broadband internet unless Congress re-approves funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is set to end in May.
Low-income families are expected to be hurt most by the program’s conclusion. More than 23 million Americans, including 3 million in California, participate in the program, which provides a $30 monthly subsidy for low-income households and launched during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One hundred and fifty members of Congress signed a letter urging their colleagues to pass a law to extend the funding,  calling internet service essential to education, health, and the economy.
Congress is debating the issue. Meanwhile, two California bills, AB 1588 and SB 1179, would require internet service providers to extend affordable offers to those who were eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
The issue comes as the digital divide, the gap between those with access and those without, is shrinking in the Golden State, in particular among historically marginalized communities, at a time when the ability to connect to the internet is needed most.
Black households saw the largest increase in internet access, 6 percent between 2019-2022, according to the recently released U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys. Across the state, 95 percent of California households report they had access to the internet in 2022, up from 92 percent in 2019.
Black, Latino, and low-income households also posted a 5 percent increase in at-home access to a desktop, laptop, tablet, or other devices.
Most Californians—90 percent—indicated they used the internet for texting or chatting, and 73 percent use the internet for social media, according to the latest survey.
More than one-third of California households go online for financial purposes, such as accessing banking services. Blacks, Latinos, low-income, and non-college graduate households were least likely to do so. They were also least likely to use the internet for renewing driver’s licenses, registering to vote, and accessing healthcare records and insurance information.
Overall, many Californians are using the internet to work or to find a job. Thirty-one percent reported they’re working from home, while 27 percent are pursuing higher education or completing job training. Twenty five percent said they use it to look for jobs.
The Public Policy Institute of California—a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank—credits several state and federal programs created during the COVID-19 pandemic for the increase in internet use. Among them is the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Despite the increases, roughly 6 percent of black, Latino, low-income households, and those with no college degree holders have no internet access at home. Rural households and those without bachelor’s degree holders did not report any increase in internet or device access between 2019 and 2022.
In the United States, one-third of adults said they were “constantly online” while 85 percent said they went online at least once a day, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. The majority of those adults were between the ages of 18 and 49.
Meanwhile, 37 percent of blacks in the United States reported the same, compared to 36 percent Hispanics and 28 percent white Americans. The percentage of black and white Americans who said they were almost always online has not increased, according to Pew, while Latinos reported a 16 percentage point increase.
While the digital divide narrows in California, upwards of 2.3 million Californians still lack broadband access, and privacy and security concerns are growing.
Fifty-four percent of Californians said their primary concern was identity theft, 42 percent reported being worried about credit card or banking fraud, 27 percent were concerned about data tracking, and 24 percent fear loss of control over their personal information.
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