If you run a website, you know that performance is important because not everyone has access to high-speed internet or up-to-date computing devices. But according to a study by the Public Policy Associates in Lansing, MI, this is changing.

The study by Drs. Rebecca Frausel and Nathan Burroughs, researchers at Public Policy Associates, shows approximately 2.1 million more children in 2021 had broadband in their homes than they had in 2019.

Using data from the most recent American Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Drs. Frausel and Burroughs found that the percentage of school-aged children in homes without broadband internet had fallen from 22 percent to only 17 percent in those two years.

“This is a really dramatic improvement,” said Dr. Frausel. “If you compare between 2018 and 2019, there was basically no change in broadband access. But during the pandemic, the states and the federal government put a lot of effort into making sure students could attend school from home. We still have a long way to go—over 9 million children still don’t have access—but this is real progress.”

The study showed the greatest improvement was among children from low-income families. They went from 61 percent having broadband in 2019 to 72 percent two years later.

“Everywhere we looked, we found lower levels of inequality: whether by home ownership, parental education, income, race and ethnicity. The gaps are still there, but they’re smaller than they used to be,” said Dr. Burroughs. “The real question now is whether we can sustain this momentum.”

In those two years, every state saw an improvement, but some states saw greater gains than others. The South and West saw less expanded access than other regions.

What this means to web developers

Monitoring the performance of your websites is vital for ensuring equal access across socio-economic statuses. Many people from low-income families might be using a slow internet connection and using out-of-date computers and phones. So if your site performs poorly on fast devices with fast internet connections, imagine how slow your sites will be on slow connections and older devices.

But this is becoming less concerning as access to broadband expands across the country.

How has access to broadband been expanding globally

Access to broadband has been expanding rapidly across the world in recent years, driven by advances in technology and growing demand for high-speed internet connectivity. Broadband has become an essential tool for communication, commerce, education, and entertainment, and its availability is increasingly seen as a key factor in economic growth and social development.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency responsible for coordinating global telecommunications policies, the number of people using the internet has more than tripled since 2005, reaching 4.9 billion in 2021, which is around 63.2% of the world’s population. Of these users, around 58% have access to broadband, which means they have a connection speed of at least 256 kbit/s. This represents a significant increase from just a decade ago when only around 27% of internet users had broadband access.

What has driven broadband expansion?

One of the main drivers of this expansion has been the increasing availability of mobile broadband, which has grown rapidly in recent years. According to the ITU, mobile broadband subscriptions have increased from 268 million in 2007 to 5.2 billion in 2021, which means that around 66% of the world’s population now has access to mobile broadband. This growth has been fueled by the spread of smartphones and other mobile devices, as well as the rollout of 4G and 5G networks, which offer faster speeds and greater capacity than previous generations of mobile networks.

However, while mobile broadband has helped to bring internet access to millions of people, especially in developing countries where fixed-line infrastructure is limited, it is still not a substitute for fixed-line broadband. Fixed-line broadband offers faster speeds and greater reliability than mobile broadband, making it better suited for activities such as online education, remote work, and streaming video. Moreover, it is essential for businesses and organizations that require high-speed connectivity for data transfer and other activities.

The expansion of fixed-line broadband has been more uneven than mobile broadband, with significant disparities between developed and developing countries. According to the ITU, around 81% of people in developed countries have access to fixed broadband, compared to just 48% in developing countries. However, there has been progress in narrowing this gap in recent years, with many developing countries investing in broadband infrastructure to improve their connectivity.

Challenges to bringing broadband to the world

One of the main challenges to expanding broadband access is the high cost of building and maintaining the necessary infrastructure, especially in remote and rural areas. This has led to a digital divide, where people living in urban and developed areas have much better connectivity than those in rural and underdeveloped areas. Governments and organizations have responded by investing in various initiatives to increase broadband access in these areas, including subsidizing infrastructure development and providing financial incentives to service providers.

Another challenge is the regulatory environment, which can make it difficult for new service providers to enter the market and offer competitive pricing. Many countries have implemented policies to encourage competition and reduce the cost of broadband, such as mandating open access to infrastructure and promoting the use of shared networks. However, progress in this area has been slow in some countries, especially in those where the telecommunications industry is dominated by a small number of large players.

Despite these challenges, the expansion of broadband access has had a significant impact on global development, especially in areas such as healthcare, education, and commerce. For example, telemedicine services have become increasingly popular in developing countries, allowing doctors and other healthcare providers to reach patients in remote areas and provide medical consultations and treatment. Similarly, online education has become an important tool for expanding access to education in developing countries, where traditional education systems may be inadequate or unavailable.