New survey shows teens believe reliable broadband is a key driver of equity and opportunity, call for government action
Data reveals that teens believe broadband access is critical to leveling the playing field for pandemic recovery and economic development in their communities
CHEVY CHASE, Md., Aug. 12, 2021 -- A new survey by National 4-H Council, the Harris Poll, and the 4-H Tech Changemakers coalition—comprised of Land O'Lakes, Microsoft, Tractor Supply, and Verizon—found that teens believe disparities in access to high-speed internet and digital skills are continuing to drive economic and social inequities in their communities nationwide.
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).
These implications impact perceptions of future social and economic mobility as well. For example, 78 percent of teens believe it's possible for them to make more money than their parents, compared with just 67 percent of teens with unreliable broadband access. Teens with unreliable access were also less likely to believe that members of their community could receive a better education (40 percent vs 58 percent), make more money (49 percent vs 56 percent), access more career opportunities (40 percent vs 55 percent), or buy a home (35 percent vs 43 percent) than their parents.
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 at www.4-H.org/DigitalDivide.
"The data is clear: lack of access to reliable broadband and critical digital skills are some of the greatest barriers people face today in working toward educational and economic achievement. Expanding access to broadband internet and adoption of digital skills are concrete steps we can take now to drive more equitable access to opportunity across the country," said Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of National 4-H Council. "Together with our Tech Changemakers partners, we're bringing critical digital skills to communities across the country, not only to create opportunities for individuals but to build local economies as well."
"Limited internet access in my rural community leaves students and business owners feeling behind the curve. The pandemic has worsened the situation since I'm now expected to complete many everyday tasks online, such as submitting schoolwork or job applications, even though I don't have reliable access to the internet," said 17-year-old Oklahoma 4-H'er Murphy Peterson. "My sister owns a small business but can't process orders or maintain the website at home. It's difficult to build a profitable business without this important resource. It creates a ripple effect for our economy because people are less likely to stay, start new businesses, and invest back in our community. Along with internet access, a program like 4-H Tech Changemakers would give 4-H'ers a chance to help communities like mine to grow and build a better future."
These 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. 4-H Tech Changemakers is National 4-H Council's initiative to help build a more equitable future through digital inclusion, with a focus on Black and rural communities. Made possible by support from Land O'Lakes, Microsoft, Tractor Supply, and Verizon, the 4-H Tech Changemakers program empowers teens to increase digital skills adoption in their communities by collaborating with coalition partners, local elected officials, nonprofits, educators, and businesses. Through 4-H's Cooperative Extension network, 20 Land-Grant Universities (LGUs), of which 11 are Historically Black Land Grant Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will prepare 4-H teen leaders to teach critical digital skills to adults in their community. Tech Changemakers will reach an estimated 50,000 adults across 18 states with digital skills trainings in 2021.
About 4-H Tech Changemakers
4-H Tech Changemakers empowers young people to close the country's widening digital divide by providing them with the education and tools they need to teach digital employability skills, such as online job seeking, social media marketing and software use to adults in their communities. The program recently expanded its commitment to service more than 50,000 adults across 164 communities nationwide.
To learn more, visit 4-H Tech Changemakers.
4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4-H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is the youth development program of our nation's Cooperative Extension System and USDA and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4-H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.
About Land O'Lakes, Inc.
Land O'Lakes, Inc., one of America's premier agribusiness and food companies, is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. With 2020 annual sales of $14 billion, Land O'Lakes is one of the nation's largest cooperatives, ranking 219 on the Fortune 500. Building on a legacy of more than 100 years of operation, Land O'Lakes today operates some of the most respected brands in agribusiness and food production including Land O'Lakes Dairy Foods, Purina Animal Nutrition, WinField United and Truterra. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Land O'Lakes, Inc. corporate headquarters are located in Arden Hills, Minnesota.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE,Nasdaq: VZ) was formed on June 30, 2000 and is one of the world's leading providers of technology, communications, information and entertainment products and services. Headquartered in New York City and with a presence around the world, Verizon generated revenues of $128.3 billion in 2020. The company offers data, video and voice services and solutions on its award-winning networks and platforms, delivering on customers' demand for mobility, reliable network connectivity, security and control.