Argonne developed the IAI to better understand the challenges many households face in connecting to high-speed internet, whether due to lack of broadband availability from internet service providers or difficulties in subscribing to a broadband service.
What is the Internet Access Index (IAI)?
The internet is a central driver in how households access information and services, learn, connect with family and friends, shop, and work. However, almost 14 percent of households in the United States1 do not have the ability to access high-speed internet. Access to broadband or high-speed internet has taken on increased importance during the COVID-19 pandemic as many workplaces and schools shifted to a virtual environment. Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne) developed the IAI to better understand the challenges many households face in connecting to high-speed internet, whether due to lack of broadband availability from internet service providers or difficulties in subscribing to a broadband service.
What Does the IAI Measure?
The IAI is calculated as the product of 3 factors. The first two factors gauge the quality and availability of high-speed internet and the third factor represents the public’s ability to subscribe to high-speed internet services. The IAI scores United States’ census tracts on a [0,1] scale, where values near 0 represent areas with less internet access and values approaching 1 represent more internet access. The maximum score (1.0) of the IAI would mean that all census blocks within a census tract have high speed internet available at the highest national speed (currently 1000 mbps), and that all households within the tract have a fixed broadband subscription of some type. To better visualize the results, Argonne binned the data into 5 relative bins (darker colored bins means better internet access) and created maps available in the accompanying story map.
Why is the IAI Important?
The COVID-19 pandemic surfaced deep digital divides across America. A lack of access to high-speed internet has made it more difficult for households to work from home or access basic services, including education and healthcare. Understanding where high-speed internet is accessible and accessed (where households subscribe to broadband services) will continue to play a critical role in the well-being of individuals, the economy, and communities well into the future. The IAI index and accompanying map identifies areas that could be considered broadband deserts where communities do not have quality access to the internet and therefore will find it more difficult to participate in an increasingly digital world. For example, it highlights locations where it is harder for students to participate in virtual learning, where individuals cannot access telemedicine services, or work remotely.
How to Use the IAI?
Researchers and policymakers can use this index to better understand the current high-speed internet accessibility landscape and to assess potential impacts of variable internet accessibility on education, healthcare, economic development, and other critical services through the lens of high-speed internet access. For example, governments industry, and non-for-profit organizations could consider how to take advantage of areas with high levels of internet access as well as make accommodations for those without internet access. In these communities, individuals may not have an email address or the ability to easily complete digital forms.
Argonne National Laboratory’s work is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, via interagency agreement through U.S. Department of Energy contract DE-AC02-06CH11357. FEMA does not endorse any nongovernment entities, organizations, or services.