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Abstract

Digital divide is defined as the gap between underserved communities that have poor or limited internet access and the communities that have relatively better access to broadband internet (25 megabits per second download/3 megabits per second upload speeds). While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claims that broadband internet is not available to 24.7 million people in the United States, data from Microsoft indicates that 162.8 million people (almost half of the population of the United States) do not use internet at broadband speeds (Hegle and Wilding, 2019). Broadband internet is still out of reach for many communities in Tennessee, with only 53.4 percent of residents adopting broadband in 2019 (FCC, 2019). With the shift to digital technology and widespread applications, access to broadband internet has become critical for economic development, specifically for education, work force, health care and recreation. Impacts of the digital divide have been broadly highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where possible, employees have shifted to working at home. Similarly, K-12 schools, colleges and universities are offering classes online, and many residents are increasingly choosing online methods to order retail goods and services. Additionally, people need broadband internet to access up-to-date health care, prescriptions and health services information about COVID-19 from news and media outlets, as well as the state and federal government. The purpose of this publication is to inform Extension agents, local government leaders and economic development professionals about the digital divide, the relative measures of socioeconomic status and broadband infrastructure across Tennessee. This publication is to be used in conjunction with the county digital divide index profiles available at https://utextensionced.tennessee.edu/digital-divide-index/.

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