Closing the digital divide in Silicon Valley

Closing the digital divide in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is a region known for its technological advancements and ubiquitous digital culture, yet it is home to a shockingly high number of residents who cannot access fast, reliable and affordable internet. Access to the internet hinges on how much Internet Service Providers (ISPs) invest in a community’s internet infrastructure. A look at an internet connectivity data map reveals that Silicon Valley neighborhoods that are predominately communities of color and/or undocumented residents face the most challenges when it comes to internet connectivity. This is no coincidence; for decades, ISPs have neglected to invest in building better internet infrastructures for these communities. This has created a digital divide in our region, reaffirming that systemic barriers continue to disproportionately affect those already facing the most vulnerable of circumstances.

There are two primary reasons why ISPs have been able to get away with under-investing in communities of color for decades:

  1. They set the rules: ISPs are the dominant force in legislative and regulatory processes that determine internet policy. Consumers do not have a voice in internet regulation.
  2. There is one dominant local Internet Service Provider (ISP), and it functions as a de facto monopoly: Without competition, this provider has been able to set the terms for quality, speed, price and location of services. ISP monopolies and duopolies dominate nearly all of the United States.  

Lack of internet access is becoming more widely understood to be a fundamental issue of equity, and we are working toward change. State and federal governments are beginning to invest in improvements to core internet infrastructure, including through community-owned broadband models.

At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we recognize the importance of partnerships, in community and philanthropy, to transform internet access in Silicon Valley and around the country. Together with California Community Foundation and Michelson 20MM Foundation, SVCF has started to convene other foundations and individual philanthropists to work toward creating digital equity solutions. In early 2021, we awarded a grant to the Digital Equity Coalition, a group of school board members working to advance community-driven solutions to closing the digital divide. Through this grant, we are investing in a growing movement for a new internet era.

For those interested in making a difference in the landscape of internet access, SVCF recommends the following actions:

  1. Fund community-based organizations to advocate and build coalitions in support of local and state policy, and regulation that spurs equitable deployment of broadband in underserved areas of California.
     
  2. Support public education that builds the case for fast, affordable and reliable broadband as a civil right, a basic utility and a core element of creating a more equitable California.

To learn more about this work and get involved in advancing digital equity, please contact SVCF Senior Program Officer for Movement- and Power-Building Jack Mahoney at jmahoney@siliconvalleycf.org.

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