Research / BFI Working PaperJul 28, 2021

Internet Access and its Implications for Productivity, Inequality, and Resilience

Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis

About one-fifth of paid workdays will be supplied from home in the post-pandemic economy, and more than one-fourth on an earnings-weighted basis. In view of this projection, we consider some implications of home internet access quality, exploiting data from the new Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes. Moving to high-quality, fully reliable home internet service for all Americans (“universal access”) would raise earnings-weighted labor productivity by an estimated 1.1% in the coming years. The implied output gains are $160 billion per year, or $4 trillion when capitalized at a 4% rate. Estimated flow output payoffs to universal access are nearly three times as large in economic disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our survey data also say that subjective well-being was higher during the pandemic for people with better home internet service conditional on age, employment status, earnings, working arrangements, and other controls. In short, universal access would raise productivity, and it would promote greater economic and social resilience during future disasters that inhibit travel and in-person interactions.

This paper was prepared for the Economic Strategy Group at the Aspen Institute.

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