Can Improvements to Mobile Internet Service Help Address Digital Inequality and the Homework Gap? An Empirical Analysis
Quality internet access is critical to participating in contemporary society. Unfortunately, many households -- particularly those of low socioeconomic status and/or those in rural areas – do not have quality internet access. Some have no access, while others are reliant on their mobile data plans for internet access, i.e., they are “smartphone dependent”. This generates inequality in internet access and creates the “homework gap,” which results from some children lacking the internet access necessary to complete schoolwork at home. Given the smartphone dependence of many disadvantaged households, we explore whether improvements to mobile internet service can help address digital inequality and the homework gap. We focus on a specific improvement: access to unlimited mobile data. For access to unlimited data to help close the gaps, it must generate larger gains for disadvantaged households than for advantaged ones. It is not obvious that this will be the case. Accordingly, we use detailed subscriber-level data from a major telecommunications firm to examine changes in the consumption of educational (and other) content after subscribers switch to unlimited mobile data plans. We find that although all subscribers increase their consumption, the increases are significantly larger for disadvantaged subscribers. We show that gains are larger for households with children likely to need online educational content. This indicates that improvements to mobile internet service are likely to be effective at addressing digital inequality and the homework gap.
digital inequality, homework gap, smartphone dependence, mobile internet, difference-in-differences
Business Administration, Management, and Operations
SMU Cox: IT & Operations Management (Topic)