In Sandwich, New Hampshire, a town of 1,200 inhabitants, broadband is scarce. Forget about watching Netflix, much less work or study from home. Even the police department has trouble uploading their reports. Read How to get more sleep tonight and beat insomnia

Julie Dolan, a 65-year-old retired resident of the place, has asthma and his hypertensive husband. Dolan doubts her poor internet at home can handle a remote medical appointment, and these days, no one wants to visit the doctor if they can help it. That only leaves them the technology of the XIX century: the telephone. “It’s the only thing I would have,” he says.

Julie Dolan, chairman of her town’s Broadband Commission, poses with her computer on the steps of her Sandwich, New Hampshire home on Thursday, March 26, 2020. Photo: AP

In schools, workplaces and public services closed by the coronavirus, Internet connections keep Americans connected to and among vital institutions. But it is not an option when fast internet service is difficult to obtain.

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Although attempts to expand broadband service have advanced in recent years, tens of millions of people still do not have it, largely because telephone and cable companies hesitate to invest in remote rural areas. The billions of dollars in government subsidies have not completely solved the problem.

Even in cities, the cost of internet access means that many don’t hire it. Low-cost alternatives like libraries and coffee shops are closed.

In St. Loius, Stella Ashcraft, 63, lives daily and can’t afford the internet. The senior center, where he plays bingo, puzzles and eats five days a week, is closed. Also his church and the library where he checks his email. She has received photos by messages from her newborn grandson, but impossible to make a call via Zoom to see the baby.

“I feel very withdrawn, isolated, alone,” she said.

There are no definitive numbers on how many people do not have broadband. The Federal Communications Commission of the United States (FCC) calculates that they are 21 million, but their data is deficient and most likely underestimates the problem.

An independent group called BroadbandNow estimates there are 42 million. The digital divide disproportionately affects rural, African American, Latino, and American Indian areas in tribal lands.

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