A new survey by National 4-H Council and Microsoft Corp. found that teens without broadband Internet access are less optimistic about their social and economic mobility.
Twenty-one million people living in the United States, including 17 million living in rural communities, do not have access to broadband Internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission, making a challenge out of everyday tasks like looking for jobs, applying to college and connecting with peers. The survey examines what this lack of high-speed Internet means for young people, and the results indicate these challenges create barriers to opportunity and can have a long-lasting impact on a young person’s self-confidence, belief in their career prospects and likelihood of attaining financial success — all traditional aspects of the American dream.
In furthering its mission to empower youth to become innovators and leaders in their communities, National 4-H Council partnered with Microsoft to explore digital access for teens. The survey, which polled over 1,500 youth between the ages of 13-19 nationwide, was commissioned by the two organizations to explore the impact of broadband access and digital skills on how youth participate in educational, social and community activities. Key findings include:
- 20 percent of teens living in rural areas lack access to high-speed Internet.
- Almost half of teens surveyed said they’ve struggled to complete homework due to slow Internet connections.
- Rural teens are also less likely to feel a sense of belonging or be involved in social causes in their community without regular access to the Internet.
- Lack of access to broadband internet can significantly interfere with teens’ self-confidence. Teens without access are:
- less confident around graduating high school, future prospects for jobs and financial success, and
- less optimistic about their social mobility for higher education and their careers.
- 8 in 10 American teens said high-speed Internet access could change their community for the better by improving the local economy.
- Of the teens surveyed who plan to leave their hometowns, 34 percent cite poor Internet connectivity as reason for their decision. This figure jumps to 43 percent for teens living in rural areas.
“Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century and is transforming every part of the American economy,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “Although most of us take broadband for granted, many in rural areas don’t have access to a high-speed connection. As a company, we’re focused on bridging that gap through our Airband initiative and working with partners like 4-H to ensure everyone has the access and skills they need to prosper in the digital economy.”
As part of their joint goal of working to close the rural broadband gap in communities across the country, National 4-H Council and Microsoft are empowering 4-H teens across 15 states to lead digital skills trainings, teach the value of digital tools and find technological solutions to real world problems through the 4-H Tech Changemakers program. By positioning digital skills as essential to succeed in the modern economy, the 4-H Tech Changemaker teens are helping to improve non-urban communities’ paths towards economic mobility.
“If I go out and I try to get a better education, I can’t necessarily come back and use those skills here because the internet access is terrible and there isn’t much digital innovation” said Eli a 4-H Tech Changemakers teen leader who has been teaching local farmers how drones can help them manage their crops. “But with the 4-H Tech Changemakers program we’re bridging the digital divide in our county one family, one household, and one farm at a time. That’s creating more opportunities for my generation and the ones to come”.