Teens believe broadband access is critical to leveling the playing field for pandemic recovery and economic development in their communities
A new survey by the National 4-H Council, the Harris Poll, and the 4-H Tech Changemakers coalition found that teens believe unreliable access to high-speed internet and digital skills are continuing to drive economic and social inequities in their communities nationwide. The survey’s findings show the profound impact reliable high speed internet access and digital skills can have on the lives and futures of American teens and their communities.
Survey results showed that unreliable access to high-speed internet, or internet that is either sometimes or never able to provide the services needed, is highly correlated to perceptions of reduced career prospects, significantly lower levels of digital literacy, and less confidence in the ability to be successful. With high-speed internet access becoming critical in the advancement of young people and local economies, 74 percent of teens (including 79 percent from rural communities) believe that the government should play an important role in providing broadband access to all.
Despite a rising need for high-speed internet, amplified by the impacts of COVID-19, the survey showed that access to reliable high-speed internet has fallen by eight percent over the last two years. Seventy-seven percent of youth had reliable access in 2019, compared with 69 percent in 2021, with Black youth lagging 10 percent behind the general population (59 percent of Black youth reported having reliable access).
The lack of access has significant effects on the lives of young people, with the survey results demonstrating notable differences in confidence levels between teens with and without access to high-speed internet in areas like graduating from high school (92 percent vs 89 percent), having a successful career (88 percent vs 81 percent), having financial success (85 percent vs 80 percent), and life overall (85 percent vs 74 percent). Unreliable internet access also leads to significant gaps in digital skills, despite widespread agreement among teens that “digital skills will be the key to getting the best jobs for my generation” (73 percent agree).
Unreliable broadband access also contributes to temporal inequity: For example, 50 percent of teens with reliable internet access spend three or more hours on homework each day. That number jumps to 62 percent for teens with unreliable access. The same pattern holds true with regard to accessing healthcare (19 percent vs 40 percent) and submitting job/college applications (26 percent vs 48 percent).
The survey also showed that unreliable broadband access has implications for adults across the country. A majority of teens agree that “access to broadband could have helped my community economically during the pandemic” (64 percent, 70 percent rural), and “if my community had better access to high-speed internet, people here would make more money” (63 percent).
The survey polled over 1,600 respondents in suburban, urban, and rural communities between the ages of 13-19 nationwide. The full survey results can be viewed here.