Expanding broadband in cities would unlock access to food delivery services, a new report says.
Even in metro areas where multiple food delivery services are available, low broadband adoption rates contribute to food insecurity, according to a new report.
Online food delivery services like Instacart and Uber Eats have helped communities feed more people, comply with social distancing guidelines and save consumers time. However, lack of affordable digital connectivity options serves as a recurring barrier to food access, a Brookings Institution analysis found.
Roughly 17 million American households did not have mobile or in-home broadband services before COVID-19 hit, and even today, only 86% of U.S. households subscribe to a broadband provider.
That internet gap impacts food access, not just in rural areas where broadband adoption is low and delivery charges high, but particularly in cities where “broadband adoption gaps are a distinct geographic barrier to digital food access,” the report said.
Greater broadband adoption rates offer a “high potential for digital food access solutions,” it said.
Disparities in access often show up at the neighborhood level. One Chicago neighborhood analyzed by Brookings has access to all four delivery services – Amazon, Instacart, Uber Eats and Walmart – but only posts a 30.2% broadband adoption rate.
“In total, 237 of the metro area’s traditionally defined food deserts have more delivery options, but lower broadband adoption, than the national rate,” the report continued. Interventions in these neighborhoods would yield multiple benefits, it said, as investing in broadband would double as investing in digital food access as well.
Other food deserts that would benefit from greater broadband coverage include parts of Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Dallas where a high number of people live in food deserts with low broadband but high food delivery service availability. A mapping tool in the Brookings report allows users to explore food and broadband availability in 384 U.S. metro areas by cross-referencing brick-and-mortar access gaps, broadband adoption rates and food delivery zone coverage data.
“Food insecurity is a persistent barrier to universal public health and economic prosperity. The data within this brief affirms the enormous potential digital food services offer to address this barrier,” Brookings said. Solving food insecurity “demands addressing prerequisites to digital delivery access such as broadband adoption and digital device ownership, as well as emerging environmental, economic, and social impacts of this new system.”
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