A new Commerce Department report on U.S. households and access to high-speed Internet service has found usage gaps that fall along racial lines, which officials say cannot be explained by income and education levels alone.
“An African-American household with the same income and education level as a white household is still less likely to have broadband access,” Rebecca Blank, Commerce’s undersecretary for economic affairs, said today in releasing the report. “That finding is quite striking, and it’s not something we expected to see.”
The report, “Digital Nation II,” is the “most comprehensive analysis of broadband usage,” available, Blank said in a conference call with reporters. To produce the report, the department, in collaboration with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s Internet Usage Survey of 54,000 households collected in October 2009.
“What the analysis shows is that we must have very targeted programs for specific populations,” said Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information, who participated in the call.
When asked what might explain the digital divide between races, Blank said that it’s important to not entirely discount the impact of education and income, and that a “whole set of historical reasons” may help explain why some groups have little presence on the Internet. Being on the Web is closely related to whether your friends and family are there, he added.
Controlling for socioeconomic factors, the broadband adoption gap between races persisted, the report said, and also broke along on urban and rural lines.
The adoption gap between rural and urban households is 7 percent; between non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, the figure is 10 percent.
Overall, seven of 10 households used the Internet in 2009; nearly one-fourth of all households did not have an Internet user.
Lack of affordability, need, interest, adequate equipment, and availability were the primary reasons stated for not having broadband access at home. Unsurprisingly, households that did not use the Internet at home but reported using it elsewhere ranked affordability as the primary obstacle to home adoption. In contrast, non-Internet users first and foremost cited lack of need or interest.
A macro-view of the data revealed that broadband use is growing rapidly, officials said.
Between 2001 and 2009, Internet use rose sevenfold, from 9 percent to 64 percent of American households. Some groups with lower-than-average adoption rates made significant gains but not enough to close the adoption gaps within demographic groups defined by income, education, race, ethnicity, and age.
Households making less than $25,000 a year made a twelvefold leap in broadband adoption, from 3 percent to 36 percent from 2001 to 2009; that’s a much faster clip than among households making more than $75,000 year, but still not enough to close the connectivity gap — 36 percent compared with 92 percent in 2009. That trend persisted among other groups, the study found.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski praised the NTIA and the Commerce Department for their work.
“The NTIA’s new report provides an in-depth look at the persistent gaps between the digital haves and digital have-nots,” Genachowski said in a statement. “Closing these gaps is one of the top priorities of the FCC’s national broadband plan and a key focus of the agency.”
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