2023 Statewide Digital Equity Survey

The California 2023 Statewide Digital Equity Survey is a joint effort between the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), in partnership with the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Dr. Hernan Galperin and Dr. François Bar were lead researchers, with assistance from Dr. Thai V. Le. The survey supported the
preparation of California’s Digital Equity Plan and its application for federal funding from the Broadband Equity Access Deployment (BEAD) program, a key component of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 





Here are the key takeaways of the study: 

  • Statewide broadband adoption remains high: 91% of respondents report being able to connect to the Internet from home. This is the same level reported in 2021 and reflects continuing challenges to connect those that remain unconnected. However, the share of underconnected (smartphone only) respondents declined by half, from 6% in 2021 to 3% in 2023. This suggests significant progress is being made to meet universal connectivity goals.
  • Key Covered Populations and disadvantaged groups have made significant progress in broadband adoption. They include: 
    • Older adults: from 78% adoption in 2021 to 91% in 2023 
    • Households with Disabilities: from 83% adoption in 2021 to 91% in 2023 
    • Women: from 88% adoption in 2021 to 93% in 2023 
    • Residents without a high-school degree: from 64% adoption in 2021 to 79% in 2023 
  • The income gap in broadband adoption has decreased, thanks to a large jump in adoption among the poorest households (below $20,000 annual household income) from 70% in 2021 to 85% in 2023. While still trailing in adoption with respect to the next income bracket (annual household income between $20,000 and $39,999) by about 5 percentage points, these gains indicate strong demand for affordable broadband services from households on the lower end of the income distribution. 
  • Broadband adoption among respondents with school-age children has decreased to just below pre-pandemic levels at 93%, after peaking in 2021 at 97%. This likely reflects the expiration of school-based programs that supported connectivity for disadvantaged families during the pandemic, as the share of K- 12 households reporting that their broadband connection is paid by the school has dropped sharply from about 15% in 2021 to just 3% in 2023. 
  • Fewer children in K-12 households have a desktop, laptop, or tablet computer available at home to use for school activities that is not shared with other family members, a decline from nearly 95% in 2021 to about 72% in 2023. A similar decline is observed in the share of K-12 families that report having a device provided by the school, from nearly 70% in 2021 to about 58% in 2023. These results highlight the need to continue supporting connectivity for K-12 families as the evidence conclusively points to positive impacts of home broadband and device availability on student learning. 
  • Californians spend an average $83.60/month on broadband, with notable variations among Covered Populations. Low-income households report paying significantly less for broadband ($69.40/month), likely due to self-selection into lower speed/lower cost service tiers and participation in discounted service programs. Living in a rural area is associated with higher broadband costs ($88.20/month). Regional variations in cost are also observed, with the lowest costs reported in the San Joaquin Valley ($77.80/month) and the highest reported in San Diego County ($93.90/month). 
  • The majority of respondents (82%) indicated that the service is adequate for their household needs. However, satisfaction levels decrease among low-income respondents (about 76%), for those living in rural areas (about 76%), and for Households with Disabilities (about 74%). 
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents have never heard of the ACP program, including about 77% of those who are unconnected. Among households whoare likely to be eligible based on income or participation in qualifying social programs, only about 35% have heard about ACP and only about 23% have heard about other discount broadband programs. These low levels of awareness confirm the urgent need for investments in outreach efforts to further promote participation in ACP and similar programs. 
  • Just over half of respondents (56%) are high-skills Internet users. However, the share of high-skills users is lower among several Covered Populations, in particular Non-English-Language households (40%), low-income residents (42%), and Households with Disabilities (43%). Further, respondents who either lack broadband at home or connect only through a smartphone report digital skills significantly below the general population. Taken together these results suggest that increasing adoption among Covered Populations will require addressing digital literacy deficits that prevent disadvantaged groups from benefiting from investments in connectivity infrastructure and service subsidy programs. 
  • Telehealth utilization has declined from 51% in 2021 to 46% in 2023, following a surge during the pandemic. This is especially true among older adults (65 years and older), whose use of telehealth declined from nearly 68% in 2021 to about 51% in 2023. As expected, telehealth use among those who lack broadband at home is well below the overall rate at just 21%. This underlines the compounding disadvantages faced by those without home broadband service, who are prevented from taking advantage of expansion in telehealth services availability. 
  • Broadband adoption lags in the Central East Neighbor Region, comprising the San Joaquin Valley and the Central and Eastern Sierra counties, where about 11% of respondents report not having broadband at home. By contrast, in the North East Neighbor Region, comprising the Northeastern counties, the Gold Country, and counties in the Sacramento area, the share of unconnected households (about 4%) is less than half of state’s average (9% unconnected). 
  • The monthly cost of broadband is significantly lower in the Central East Neighbor Region (San Joaquin Valley and the Central and Eastern Sierra counties) at $77.60/month, while somewhat higher in the North West Region (Redwood Coast and North Bay North Coast) at $90/month. It is worth noting that in three of the four Neighbor Regions the cost of service is higher than the state average ($83.60/month), which confirms that home broadband tends to be more expensive in more rural and less populated areas. 
  • Cost is the main barrier to home broadband adoption. Almost two-thirds (61%) of respondents without home broadband report cost as one of the reasons for not having the service, followed by concerns about privacy (about 42%) and those reporting a smartphone is adequate to do all they need (about 42%). When probed about the main reason, cost again is at the top with over a third of respondents reporting that home broadband is too expensive for them. 
  • Public and community broadband continue to play a critical role in providing connectivity alternatives to those who lack home access, with 41% reporting they connect in schools or libraries, 29% in parks or similar public spaces, 29% through community Wi-Fi and 22% at the parking lot of school or libraries.