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Under half of households east of the Anacostia River have high-speed internet at home: study

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Data compiled by the Urban Institute show a digital divide persists in D.C.

Blue ethernet cables attached to a modem. Shutterstock

Access to groceries and healthcare aren’t the only kinds of inequities apparent in the nation’s capital. Less than half of the households who live east of the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8, have home broadband subscriptions letting them surf the web at high speeds, according to the D.C.-based Urban Institute. Culling new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Urban finds that only 45 and 48 percent of households in Wards 7 and 8, respectively, have such service.

By contrast, 82 and 86 percent of households in Wards 2 and 3—which stretch roughly from Judiciary Square up to Friendship Heights, in Northwest—have broadband subscriptions at home. The average rate in the District is 70 percent, compared with a national average of 67 percent. (When dial-up service is included, 83 percent of D.C. households have web access.) The Urban Institute suggests these disparities could be hindering broader economic growth.

The differences are even greater between particular neighborhoods, with some Northeast neighborhoods seeing just 37 percent of households with broadband subscriptions, versus some Northwest neighborhoods seeing 90 percent rates. “If we closed the equity gap between the neighborhoods of Mayfair, Hillbrook, and Mahaning Heights, and DC overall, 1,061 more households would have a broadband internet subscription,” reports Urban. “If we set a goal to bring the broadband subscription rate in Ward 7 to 90 percent, 13,551 more households would be connected.” The data represent five-year estimates from a Census Bureau survey.

A bar graph showing broadband subscription rates in Ward 7 neighborhoods and in D.C. at large. 37 percent of households in Mayfair, Hillbrook, and Mahaning Heights have broadband compared to 70 percent of households in D.C.
Broadband subscription rates in Ward 7 neighborhoods and in D.C. generally
Urban Institue

Urban author Leah Hendey outlines a series of possible reasons for the internet inequities, including the cost of broadband subscriptions, the lack of computers in some households, and widespread smartphone access. “Strategies to reduce the cost of broadband internet, ensure all neighborhoods have reliable and high-speed broadband, and provide digital literacy and technology training can improve equity and reduce the digital divide,” she writes. The data have been integrated into a tool that depicts various equity gaps in D.C.