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Performance is an issue of equity

By Megan Notarte

Published on August 11th, 2020

At Cloud Four, we care about building a better web. We like sites that are fast and accessible. It’s something we work on with every project to various degrees. It’s in our DNA and one of our core values.

For some folks, performance is really about making the site load faster – full stop. Maybe people will buy more of their product, or be slightly less frustrated while they wait for content to load over their sweet broadband internet connection. In e-commerce, the theory is that fast sites lead to higher conversion, which leads to more money. And anyway, fast sites are cool, am I right?

This tweet from Tim Kadlec came up in my feed and really got me thinking:

While I get excited about cool, fast, performant sites, situations like this make me realize that the emphasis is often in the wrong place. The reason to focus on performance is that it provides a more equitable experience for all your site visitors.

There are at least 14 million people without any internet access in the US and at least 25 million without access to fast broadband. That number could actually be an undercount, according to Microsoft, and may be as high as 162.8 million without broadband access.Footnote 1

The COVID pandemic will likely exacerbate the digital divide, particularly for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities, with over 28% reporting concerns about how to pay their home internet service bills. This means more users relying on their phones as their primary internet source, with metered or slower connection speeds. Some may have to drive to the library to get access to reliable internet, if they even have a car to get there. Your next billion users are probably not going to be accessing your site on unlimited broadband anyway. They also probably won’t be from the US.

Nicole Dominguez said it best, back in 2016: The Internet is for Everyone. Website speed and performance are a question of equity. Fast and lightweight sites mean that everyone can access your content equally. For e-commerce, that will likely help with conversions as well. It’s not just an economic imperative; it’s a moral imperative.

Thanks to Tyler Sticka for the illustration!


  1. The Markup does a great roundup of this research including a deeper dive on internet access in the US during the COVID pandemic.  Return to the text before footnote 1