Digital Divide: Providing access to computers and reliable high-speed internet for all Californians ensures that everyone can participate civically and have equitable access to services and opportunities.

Each indicator page features a series of charts, insights and analysis, case studies, and related indicators.

Insights and Analyses

  • In 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a program to subsidize internet costs to bridge the digital divide. Although the FCC estimated that 3.7 million California households were eligible for the monthly $30 subsidy, as of April 2022, according to an analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California, fewer than two in every five eligible households were enrolled.
  • Despite federal, state, and local interventions to eliminate the digital divide, particularly among families with school-aged children, disparities in broadband access continued especially among low-income families, Black and Latino families, and families headed by someone who has less than a bachelor’s degree. 
  • An analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 10% of California households lacked computing devices in 2020, but this divide was not spread evenly across neighborhoods, counties, and regions in California. 
  • Data from 2019 showed that 34% of Latino, immigrant households and 27% of Black, U.S.-born households lacked at home high-speed internet connection, a computer, or both in California. In Los Angeles County, many neighborhoods that lacked internet access and or device accessibility were those classified as high poverty neighborhoods, which are historically Black and Brown. 
  • The digital divide also disproportionately impacts immigrant communities, who have a higher percentage of households without at home high-speed internet connection, a computer, or both. In California, undocumented immigrant households were most impacted, with 38% experiencing a digital divide in 2019.
  • In 2019, 38% Latino immigrant; 24% Black, U.S.-born; and 21% of mixed/other immigrant youth in grades K-12 statewide did not have a high-speed internet connection, a computer, or both at home. This lack of connection may further reduce educational opportunities for Black and Brown youth, setting them further behind in school.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates our dependence on digital technology and the need for equitable internet and computer access, especially in times of crisis.

As our world shifts to digital platforms, digital connectedness has become necessary for everyday tasks and responsibilities such as professional life, access to government services and resources, and schooling. Yet, across the state in 2019, 33% of immigrants and about 26% of the U.S.-born population did not have access to a computer or high-speed internet at home. This gap was wider among immigrants, as 48% of undocumented residents, 32% of lawful residents, and about 27% of naturalized citizens lacked access to a computer or high-speed internet at home. In 2020, The Greenlining Institute conducted a study assessing how Californians in Fresno and Oakland were impacted by the lack of access to internet. Their analysis included a 2020 heat map of high-speed internet accessibility in Oakland, revealing that quality high-speed internet was less available in low-income communities of color, primarily in census block groups that tend to be both low-income and have a high share of Black residents. Coupled with this analysis, the Greenlining Institute conducted interviews to capture the challenges that children and adults faced. One 16-year-old Asian American Fresno student shared with Greenlining: ‘“My mom pays $160/month for internet but she’s behind every month so we owe about $637. In the past, we have lost the internet twice [due to nonpayment] for a week or two. We usually don’t lose the internet for too long because my mom ends up borrowing money from someone because we need it. If we don’t have it we can’t do our work to catch up on classes and we can lose points for turning in assignments late.”’ In June 2021, community members, organizers, advocacy groups, and political stakeholders asserted that California had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the digital divide by adopting a statewide broadband infrastructure plan. By July 2021, California adopted that plan, designed to expand broadband infrastructure and access to affordable and quality internet, especially in underserved areas of the state. To read the Greenlining Institute’s full report and policy recommendations click here.  

Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) is a key grassroots organization working to support, organize, and empower Indigenous migrant communities in California’s Central Coast region – including Indigenous migrant youth.

Organizations like MICOP and their partners estimate that there are about 20,000 Indigenous Mixteco migrants from Mexico living in Ventura County in the Central Coast. Many such Indigenous migrants in California have been misrecognized as Latinx and assumed to be Spanish speakers at school and at work, when in reality many are not proficient in either English or Spanish. This has contributed to a widespread lack of access to educational, working, and health infrastructures, even in areas with more concentrated Indigenous migrant populations.

Work by scholars sheds light on the challenges and discrimination that Indigenous youth, in particular, face – especially in the school system. In this context, it is not uncommon for Indigenous migrant youth to be tracked into special education classes, even when they do not have a learning disability, hindering their academic progression and participation in the U.S. school system. Further, effective communication between parents and schools can often depend on whether translation is available, so parents’ ability to advocate on behalf of their children is often limited by a lack of translation services (or dependent on another family member being available to translate). As highlighted by a 2020 CalMatters article, educational barriers for Indigenous migrant youth were compounded when schools transitioned to remote learning during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of the existing linguistic barriers, Indigenous youth had to now further contend with the digital divide to access class materials and with economic imperatives to work in the agricultural fields when family members experienced job loss or contracted COVID-19. Some of the youth featured in that article were members of MICOP’s Tequio Youth Group, which focuses on leadership development to promote Indigenous pride, promotes educational attainment, and advocates against bullying. For example, in 2012, members advocated for the implementation of a policy prohibiting the use of derogatory terms used against Indigenous students in local school districts. In 2014 and 2015, youth also partook in the “Fields to College” campaign, advocating for language resources for both students and their parents in the Oxnard Union High School District. In addition, the group established the Tequio Scholarship Fund to provide funding to Indigenous college students in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

In general, it is important to note that shared languages and cultures are critical components of MICOP’s success in building trust with community members – and as of 2021, 80% of MICOP’s staff are from the Indigenous communities the organization intends to serve. To learn more about MICOP visit their site here. Read more about MICOP’s other efforts during the pandemic here

Photo credit: MICOP

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