Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The government is encouraging Americans to respond to this year's census online, prompting concerns that millions who lack internet access may not be properly counted.

Why it matters: The 2020 census determines how federal funding is allocated across the country, so any undercount matters, and one caused by the digital divide would skew heavily against less well-off citizens.

What's happening: Americans will receive invitations in the mail to respond online to the census beginning March 12.

  • This is the first "online first" census, though some households will also receive a paper questionnaire. Part of the calculus for which households get the hard copy relies on whether they're in areas with spotty or no internet access.
  • Though the online response is encouraged, all Americans do have the option to respond by mail or phone.

The problem with "online first," Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes, is that the Census Bureau may be underestimating the number of Americans without reliable internet access and could end up stretched too thin to properly count those people.

Details: The Census Bureau is relying in part on FCC data on broadband deployment across the country to help determine what areas lack access.

  • Official FCC figures suggest 21 million Americans don't have broadband, but Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said that number "radically overstates" the level of service because of how the FCC collects the data. A Microsoft study revealed that more than 162 million people don't use the internet at broadband speeds.
  • "The truth is between those two numbers, but it leaves me concerned to realize that the Census Bureau is directing these digital-first mailers to households that may have no access, where there may be no internet service," Rosenworcel said in an interview.
  • "It feels so easy for people in some communities who can't imagine their household without really high-speed broadband, but we've got to remember, there are big swaths of this country that don't have service and there are people who can't afford service."

The problem could be compounded, Rosenworcel says, because the census is hiring fewer people than in 2010 to follow up with households that don't respond.

Yes, but: Households that don't respond online will receive a paper questionnaire before the government has to send someone out.

  • On March 20, the Census will begin posting response rates for 2020 to track where more efforts are needed.
  • The FCC tally is also not the only factor in determining who is less likely to respond online. The Census reviewed data from the American Community Survey to find areas with low internet connectivity rates, and it took into account whether there's a high proportion of the population over age 65 when determining where to send an initial paper questionnaire in the mail, a spokesperson said.
  • "The bureau built that contingency planning in there," said Maria Filippelli, a
    Public Interest Technology Census Fellow at New America. "Online first is beneficial and easily accessible for a lot of people, but not everybody. So to get everybody counted, there's the phone and paper. My hope is that’s good for everybody."

What's next: Libraries are working to support the online-first census as part of broader efforts to bridge the digital divide in their communities, including Prince George's County in Maryland.

  • Roughly 30 percent of residents there were not counted during the last census, causing the county to lose out on federal funding and prompting an awareness campaign that each person who participates is contributing $18,250 in public funds over 10 years, said Nicholas Brown, chief operating officer for communication and outreach for the county library system.
  • The library system is providing a dedicated computer in every branch to complete the census, loans out WiFi hot-spots to patrons and is working with PTAs and schools to provide care for students while parents fill out the census at schools, Brown said.

The big picture: The first online census underscores the tension between government systems and processes moving online before significant portions of the population can follow.

Go deeper: This year's census may be the toughest count yet

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!