Internet broadband accessibility and the local socio-economic development of deprived communities

Last registered on October 17, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Internet broadband accessibility and the local socio-economic development of deprived communities
Initial registration date
October 13, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
October 17, 2023, 1:41 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


Primary Investigator

University of Sheffield

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Sheffield
PI Affiliation
University of Sheffield

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Digital poverty is defined as an inability to interact with the online world fully, when, where, and how an individual needs to (DPA, 2022). Digital poverty exacerbates and is exacerbated by other socioeconomic, educational, racial, linguistic, gender, and health inequalities, becoming both the product and the cause of other forms of socio-economic disadvantage (Hernandez and Roberts, 2018; DPA, 2022). It describes not just differences in access, labelled as “first-level” or “basic digital divide”, but autonomy of use, skill, social support and the purposes for which the technology is employed, labelled as the “second-level digital divide” (Rinaldo et al., 2014). Tackling digital poverty would require intentional and continuous policy interventions addressing 5 different elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration (National Digital Inclusion Alliance, 2020).

Previous studies have identified several drivers of digital poverty, including demography (age, sex, ethnicity), socioeconomic status (education and income), location, infrastructure, internet access cost and quality. In particular, internet access costs are an important consideration especially for low-income households living in deprived communities, as the costs of acquiring an efficient and effective broadband and device may be unaffordable for most low-income households, further deepening the digital divide among deprived communities (Kearns and Whitley, 2019). However, tackling digital poverty is not relevant just to get people using more technology per se, but rather to empower the use of technology to impact on and transform people's lives (Rinaldo et al., 2014). Several studies have applied different methodologies to diverse contexts to try to evaluate the impact that digital poverty, and its reduction, might have on several outcomes, mostly focusing on students’ educational performance, households’ economic outcomes, and individuals’ wellbeing. However, previous evidence has not provided a comprehensive analysis of the impact of digital poverty on different socio-economic outcomes, in particular regarding the relationship with the hurdle of high internet access costs deepening the digital divide, which is especially relevant for low-income households living in deprived communities.

The aim of this project is to assess the impact of access to unlimited high-speed broadband connection for households on several socio-economic indicators, such as education achievements, labour market participation, and community engagement, among disadvantaged households. This is a collaborative project involving a number of private and public organisations, including Sheffield City Council, VAS (Voluntary Action Sheffield), the Lottery-funded youth and community service provider SY-NC, the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation (a Sheffield-based charity), the local internet service provider Pinemedia, the University of Sheffield and the Digital Poverty Alliance. The project wants to provide high-speed and unlimited fibre broadband to the households located in one of the most deprived social housing estates in the local authority district of Sheffield, in order to alleviate digital poverty, and assess the impact of better and more affordable internet broadband accessibility on education, labour market participation, and community engagement. Researchers at the University - in collaboration with the Digital Poverty Alliance research team and a group of community researchers - will be in charge of carrying out an in-depth and rigorous evaluation of the effects of this intervention on the local community. The project will run for two years, and the pilot will be used to analyse the effectiveness of this type of intervention before rolling it out to other towns and cities across the country.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Amos, Bitrus, Vania Sena and Enrico Vanino. 2023. "Internet broadband accessibility and the local socio-economic development of deprived communities." AEA RCT Registry. October 17.
Sponsors & Partners



Experimental Details


The project is intended to run for two years overall. The intervention will start with the deployment of the fibre infrastructure in the neighbourhood by Pinemedia. After the completion of the initial technical surveys, fibre cables will be laid, while modems will be installed in people's houses. Once the cables are laid, each of the properties of participating households will be connected to the fibre network and have a modem installed. Internet access will be provided as a non-profit scheme, as access will be provided on a closed network only available to households located in the selected social housing estate at no cost.

After the installation of the infrastructure is finalised, it will be possible to switch on the fibre broadband connection to the estate residents in a staggered and phased approach. Zones A, B, C and D (group 1) will be the first to be connected, while zones E, F, G and H (group 2) will be connected six months after. The pilot intervention will last for 18 months, with the possibility of extending it for a longer period. Both groups will receive access to the broadband for 12 months in a staggered approach. In the first phase of the intervention, group 1 will be considered as treated by receiving access to the broadband only, and it will be compared with group 2 which will not have received the treatment yet. In the second phase, group 2 will be considered as treated, since on top of the broadband connection they will also receive additional training on digital safety and appropriate internet use provided in collaboration with the Digital Poverty Alliance, while group 1 will carry on only with broadband access. Finally, in the third phase group 1 will have their subsidised internet connection interrupted, while group 2 will carry on with their treatment until the end of the phase. As a result, by staggering the intervention, we will be able to evaluate 2 different treatments: the provision of high-speed fibre broadband, and secondly the combined provision of high-speed fibre broadband and related training. In addition, this approach will limit the potential feeling of exclusion which could affect traditional control groups.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Length and typology of internet use, number of online jobs applications made, GP appointments online bookings, sense of belonging and social inclusion, willingness to pay for internet broadband access.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Our analysis will consider several types of outcomes which could be affected by the intervention, as demonstrated by previous studies in this field, for different demographic groups living in the estate (youth, working-age adults, elderly). To do so, we will collect primary data directly from the estate residents using questionnaires. We will administer 4 questionnaire waves: the first one for group 1 to assess the pre-treatment conditions; the second one to assess the mid-term effects for group 1 and the pre-treatment conditions for group 2; the third one to evaluate the end of treatment effects for group 1 and the mid-term effects for group 2; and the final one to evaluate the end of treatment effects for group 2 and the post-treatment effects for group 1. The collection of the primary data will be organised by the University of Sheffield research team, which will coordinate a group of community researchers which will be helping with the collection and processing of the questionnaires. The questionnaires will collect information about the socio-economic characteristics of households (household size and composition, income, education, ethnicity, internet availability, and internet use habits), as well as information about some of the possible outcomes, which could not be easily accessible through secondary data (for instance, length and typology of internet use, number of online jobs applications made, GP appointments online bookings, sense of belonging and social inclusion).

We will also collect data on households’ internet habits through a community portal that will be available for all households participating in the project upon enrolling in the project. The community portal will be managed by the local community, including links to community news, essential online services as online GP booking system, links to educational resources provided to pupils by local schools, job listings websites, online internet usage training job and other useful resources. Upon enrolling in the project, households will receive their personal credentials to log in to the portal so that we will be able to distinguish between households in the treated and control groups in an anonymised way. The project will not track households’ internet activity beyond the community portal. The portal will be helpful also to give the opportunity to households to answer the questionnaire questions directly online.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
The estate has been divided in 8 similarly sized zones assigned to two main groups. The installation of cables will start from zone A, which is the closest to the existing fibre infrastructure located in the bottom right corner of the estate, and it will proceed in alphabetical order. We will assess the impact of treatments randomly allocated to group 1 and group 2, based on their location in the different infrastructure deployment zones. We assume households living in different zones within the same estate to be very similar in terms of different socio-economic characteristics (household composition, income, education, etc). The assignment of the treatments can be considered random as it is only based on the subdivision of the neighbourhood in 2 infrastructure deployment zones that has been done randomly and it is not correlated with any other administrative or socio-economic boundary.
Randomization Unit
Infrastructure deployment zones
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
8 zones
Sample size: planned number of observations
350 households
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
175 household for treatment 1, 175 households for treatment 2.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Based on a power analysis carried out after reviewing the quantitative empirical evidence from previous studies, we are confident that the sample size of this study will be large enough for minimum detectable effect sizes ranging from 0.4 (n=150) to 0.25 (n=350).

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of Sheffield
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number