The important role that a high-speed internet connection plays in everyday life became increasingly clear during the coronavirus pandemic, as it affected everything from remote work and education to one's ability to shop for necessities during lockdown.
Youth development organization 4-H discovered in a new survey that high-speed internet — and conversely, the lack of it — can affect the futures of young people and entire communities as well. For this reason, 74% of teens (and 79% of those living in rural areas) believe that the government should provide reliable broadband for everyone.
Teenagers with unreliable internet are less confident in their ability to get ahead in life
The 4-H report revealed that, for 89% of teen respondents, their need for high-speed internet at home increased or stayed the same over the past 18 months. Despite that, access to a reliable connection decreased by 8% since 2019 — from 77% to 69% — with cost being the primary reason why many lacked broadband access at home.
Consequently, confidence to succeed in life has also dropped 9% since 2019 (and 12% for those without a reliable internet connection). Other areas with a significant difference in confidence levels between young people with and without broadband access include:
- Graduating from school (89% unreliable broadband vs. 92% reliable broadband)
- Having a successful career (81% vs. 88%)
- Having financial success (80% vs. 85%)
- Succeeding in life overall (74% vs. 85%)
Teens without reliable high-speed internet have clear disadvantages in other areas, too, according to 4-H. For instance, the nonprofit organization found that those without broadband access were more likely to spend three or more hours a day on the following activities:
- Homework (62% with unreliable broadband vs. 50% with reliable broadband)
- Health care or telehealth (40% vs. 19%)
- Job hunting and networking (48% vs. 26%)
And even though the majority of teens (73%) agree that "digital skills will be the key to getting the best jobs for my generation," unreliable access to high-speed internet creates a clear gap in digital literacy between the haves and the have-nots.
If left unchecked, this gap may continue to grow: A different survey from ResumeBuilder.com showed that, as more companies begin to embrace remote work, they seek candidates who are proficient with computers and digital tools like video chat.
Internet access also affects how respondents view their community
These issues don't just affect teenagers either, but adults and the community at large as well. Another survey, this time from Tallwave, found that people used digital experiences during the pandemic largely for the convenience and cost savings they offered — however, those without high-speed internet access are less likely to be able to take advantage of them.
Compared to their counterparts with broadband access, teenage respondents who lacked a reliable high-speed connection were also less likely to believe their community had access to:
- Top-quality K-12 education (37% unreliable broadband vs. 55% reliable broadband)
- Top-quality college education (33% vs. 43%)
- A wide variety of job opportunities (38% vs. 51%)
- High-income job opportunities (32% vs. 35%)
With this in mind, it's little wonder why those without a reliable internet connection were more likely to move out of their community than those who did. However, better broadband access could change their minds — 25% of those with unreliable internet said they would be more likely to stay long-term if they had a better internet connection, compared to only 14% of those who already have reliable internet.
Methodology: On behalf of 4-H, The Harris Poll conducted an online survey of 1,600 US teenagers (ages 13-19) in suburban, urban and rural communities between June 25-July 1, 2021. Of these responses, 100 were collected via phone from respondents with little to no high-speed internet access.