Analyzing Digital Equity in Cities Around the U.S.

Oct 07, 2022

by unitedwaynca

As online learning, telehealth and remote work continue to grow in popularity throughout the U.S., questions of digital equity and bridging the digital divide arise. For those who have access to laptops, smartphones and reliable Internet, digital equity might not seem like such a big deal. However, when you take into account the loss of job and learning opportunities, as well as the ability to seamlessly use rideshare apps and other forms of technology, digital equity becomes more apparent. 

According to a report conducted by the FCC, 19 million Americans still lack access to broadband services, creating pockets of inequity all over the U.S. To understand which cities are being hit the hardest by the technology divide, the United Way of the National Capital Area evaluated 100 of America’s largest cities around the U.S. to find out which ones are the most digitally inclusive and which ones have some work to do. 

 

The 20 Best U.S. Cities for Digital Equity

U.S. map displaying the 20 best U.S. cities for digital equity

When it comes to putting in the effort, certain cities provided more solutions to the digital divide than others. 

Sacramento, CA, had an overall city score of 76.28 out of 100, with 98.9% of their population having access to fast Internet (1 Gig) and 512.25 tech support technicians per 100k people. Home to coffee shops/Internet cafes like Cyber Java, locals can sip on a blended espresso Snicker Bar Freeze drink while accessing their free Wi-Fi. 

Jumping down to sixth on our list is San Diego, CA, which had an overall city score of 69.85 out of 100. San Diego received top marks for 45 Internet providers per 100k residents. The California Lifeline Program is bridging the digital divide with the Affordable Connectivity Program, which gives low-income households discounts on Internet services, laptops and other devices. 

The Mile High City (a.k.a. Denver, CO,) placed ninth with an overall city score of 68.15 out of 100. Residents can experience an average broadband speed of 149.31 (Mbps). To put that into perspective, the FCC states that 12 Mbps qualifies as good Internet speed when using two or more devices. 

Colorado is solving the technology divide by ensuring equal access to broadband services. The Colorado Broadband Office seeks to remove the barriers preventing their residents from accessing broadband of any kind by providing students, income-qualifying households or other groups with Internet provider service discounts.

Charleston, SC, ranked eleventh with an overall city score of 65.10 out of 100 and features an impressive 469.93 free Wi-Fi hotspots per 100k people.

 

The Top 10 Cities Bridging the Digital Divide

Infographic displaying the top 10 most digitally inclusive cities

As technology becomes an even more vital part of our society, certain cities understand the impact of providing digital equity more so than others. Sacramento, CA, is number one on our list. Its residents can enjoy an average Internet cost of $59.22 per month. 

The Capital City is followed by Seattle, WA, which received an overall city score of 76.21 out of 100. There’s no shortage of Starbucks locations here as remote workers will find 68 locations to visit per 100k residents. If Starbucks is busy, feel free to spend time at The Seattle Public Library, which promotes digital equity through Internet literacy classes and access to digital devices. 

Washington, DC, ranks third with an overall city score of 71.87 out of 100, as 92.7% of adults have access to both a computer and the Internet. Organizations like Digital Equity in D.C. Education are striving to create solutions to the digital divide in schools by improving school Internet infrastructure and tech support.

Harrisburg, PA, ranked fourth with an overall city score of 71.85 out of 100 while Boston, MA, placed fifth with an overall city score of 70.38 out of 100. 

 

Device Ownership and Internet Access

a US map plotting where computer and internet subscription ownership is highest and lowest

When it comes to bridging the digital divide, certain obstacles like limited access to devices or Internet services might stand in the way. Whether you factor in someone trying to apply for a job or a student attempting to take an online course, targeting digital equity allows everyone to pursue their goals without technological limitations getting in the way. 

97.7% of students in Baltimore, MD, had the highest access to both devices and Internet services. The Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition is paving the way for students to have greater Internet connectivity and digital skills.  

94.28% of adults in San Jose, CA, had the highest access to devices and the Internet, beating the national average of 88% of adults. 

When it came to low access to devices and the Internet, 77.68% of students in Lakeland, FL, ranked lowest on our scale while 73.86% of adults in McAllen, TX, had the lowest access. The city of McAllen is hoping to turn the digital tide by installing 1,000 Wi-Fi access points across the city on neighborhood light poles.

Methodology

To discover the cities that were best for digital equity, we analyzed the 100 largest U.S. cities according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s MSA populations. We used sources like Wifi Map, Yelp, The Real Yellow Pages, BroadbandNow, Numbeo, the U.S. Census, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We ranked cities on factors like the number of free Wi-Fi hotspots (per 100k people), average internet speed (in Mbps) and the percentage of students with a computer and Internet subscription. 

We assigned cities with a score of 0-10 for each factor, with a score of 10 representing the most favorable conditions. Next, we determined each city’s overall score from the total of its individual factor scores, which were weighted according to their impact on digital inclusion. Individual factor scores were then added together to give each city a final score from 0-100. Higher scores indicated which cities were better for digital equity. 

 

Ranking factors with their respective weights and sources are as follows:

Free Wifi Hotspots

No. of Free Wi-Fi Hotspots (per 100k)

No. of Public Libraries with Free Wi-Fi (per 100k)

  • Weight: 1.50
  • Source: Yelp

No. of Starbucks Locations (per 100k)

Internet Access, Availability and Cost

Average Internet Speed (in Mbps)

Percent of Population with Access to 1 Gig

Average Internet Cost (per month)

Access to Wired Low-Priced Broadband Plan

Number of Internet Providers (per 100k)

Device Ownership, Subscriptions and Tech Support

Percent of Students with a Computer and Internet Subscription

Percent of Adults with a Computer and Internet Subscription

Number of Tech Support Technicians (per 100k)

 

Closing Thoughts

Digital equity goes far beyond limited access to Facebook and social media. Instead, it’s a pervasive issue that can have a lasting impact on rural, urban and low-income communities, impacting generational wealth and educational opportunities. 

At United Way NCA, we believe in creating solutions to the digital divide so that we can have a more equitable future for all. Read more about how the digital divide creates inequity in the educational system or join our Project Community Connect program to provide essential services for our region’s ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population. Learn more at unitedwaynca.org.

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