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Communications of the ACM

Law and Technology

Closing Our Digital Divides

road sign stating 'Utility Work Ahead'

Credit: Sharkstock / Shutterstock

"Americans pay too much for Internet service," President Biden recently declared.a Broadband Internet access, in fact, has been a recurrent theme in several of Biden's speeches, from announcing an Executive Order in 2021 to his most recent State of the Union Address. It is easy to see why the President would pay attention to Internet access in the U.S. We use Zoom, Teams, and Meet for work and school; we depend on Facebook and Twitter for news from friends, family, or society; TikTok, Netflix, and Spotify provide hours of entertainment. Medical appointments, government services, and commercial activity are all offered online. And broadband Internet access is the foundational service that undergirds all this economic and democratic activity.

Is Biden correct that the price is too high? Yes. While broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) dispute that characterization, recent studies find consumers are too often beholden to a monopoly provider, and the burdens of higher prices for comparatively lower-quality service fall, disproportionately, on historically disadvantaged populations. Hence, closing the "digital divide"—the gap between those communities that have reliable, affordable Internet access and those that do not—will require we study local broadband markets and muster the political will to address monopoly pricing and digital discrimination.


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