Highlights in Obama’s Budget

National Journal
Eliza Krigman
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Eliza Krigman
March 4, 2014, 3:16 p.m.

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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