September 2018

IZA DP No. 11855: Broadband Internet and Social Capital

We study how the diffusion of broadband Internet affects social capital using two data sets from the UK. Our empirical strategy exploits the fact that broadband access has long depended on customers' position in the voice telecommunication infrastructure that was designed in the 1930s. The actual speed of an Internet connection, in fact, rapidly decays with the distance of the dwelling from the specific node of the network serving its area. Merging unique information about the topology of the voice network with geocoded longitudinal data about individual social capital, we show that access to broadband Internet caused a significant decline in forms of offline interaction and civic engagement. Overall, our results suggest that broadband penetration substantially crowded out several aspects of social capital.