One of the first things I did before putting in an offer on a new home last summer was call my internet provider. I wanted to know what kinds of speeds I could expect if I ended up living there. Fortunately, I got the all-clear – the fastest connections were indeed available – so my wife and I went ahead and ultimately bought the house.
It turns out I’m not some weird tech nerd with mixed-up priorities. A home’s internet connectivity is becoming an increasingly vital selling feature, like a big backyard or a new roof, to the point where houses without good access are being valued up to 20 per cent lower, according to real estate experts in the U.K.
Buyers are now typically considering fast broadband the “fourth utility,” after electricity, water and gas.
“The more demanding buyers now want fibre-optic superfast speeds as, whether working from home, streaming entertainment or managing the stack of equipment that now relies on this, a property needs to have 21st-century connectivity,” property expert Henry Pryor told The Guardian.
I couldn’t help but notice the overlap between this particular story and another one on broadband adoption in certain U.S. cities. Using heat maps to show high-speed diffusion, the Atlantic Cities article comes to some pretty clear conclusions – poorer neighbourhoods aren’t subscribing to broadband nearly as much as richer ones. San Antonio, Texas provides a good example:
Households in and around the downtown business district overwhelmingly have broadband. But just west of Interstates 10 and 35, in the adjacent neighborhoods that are home to many of the city’s Hispanic poor, fewer than 20 per cent of households do.
The situation is similar in Canada, where more than 90 per cent of the richest people use the internet compared to only 62 per cent in the poorest quartile.
Put together it’s clear evidence of digital divides emerging and strengthening in several developed nations. As the Atlantic Cities article puts it, this is very important: “At stake isn’t the ability to stream House of Cards. It’s the ability to participate fully in a society that’s increasingly moving online.”
This raises the question of whether the status quo – which includes continually escalating broadband prices and mergers between large service providers, such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the United States – should be allowed to continue, or whether governments and regulators need to rethink how the so-called fourth utility is deployed to the public.