Study Finds Significant Benefit of Unlimited Data Plans on Disadvantaged Households

Last week, JBHE.com reported on a recent study from the United States Census Bureau that uncovered disparities in computer and internet access among Black American households. A new study led by Southern Methodist University in Dallas in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology has found a potential method to combat this technology gap and the subsequent educational disadvantages that arise because of it.

In 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called for research into the effects of internet data caps on disadvantaged neighborhoods. In the new study, the authors partnered with a large telecommunications provider to examine what would happen if their customers from low socioeconomic households upgraded to an unlimited data plan, rather than a plan with a data cap, which requires users to pay extra for any data used over their plan’s allotted amount.

The results found that removing the data cap resulted in a significantly increased rate of internet usage among disadvantaged families. Furthermore, the study found disadvantaged households were more likely to increase their internet usage for educational benefits when they switched to an unlimited data plan. The authors found that when advantaged households upgraded to unlimited data, they increased their educational internet use by 15 MB per month, compared to disadvantaged households, who increased their educational internet consumption by 24 MB per month.

While this study was unable to confirm if increases in educational internet consumption results in increased educational opportunities, the authors believe their findings can be useful to the FCC’s inquiry into data caps. Their results suggest improved mobile internet plans can reduce the technology gap that persists in the United States today.

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