Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Narrowing the digital divide

As reported in this article, the recent Pew Internet and American Life report. From the article:

Speedy internet connections once were considered perks for the privileged. Robust Net access was enjoyed by 30% of U.S. households as late as 2005, mostly in white homes. Meanwhile, so-called broadband adoption by blacks was a mere 14%, according to data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The resulting "digital divide" between white and black was considered a lasting socioeconomic problem--like the protracted disparity between black and white unemployment.


Surprise. In the past two years, African Americans have been devouring broadband technology--and the digital divide has shrunk significantly, at least for this group. The share of black households with a cable modem, DSL, or satellite Internet connection climbed to 40% this year, Pew says. That's almost twice as fast as the growth of broadband penetration for the general population, which grew to 47%. The income gap has narrowed, too, but not as much: Households making less than $30,000 a year doubled their broadband participation, to 30%. That still pales next to 76% for households that have incomes of at least $75,000.

Some of the closing of the racial divide can be traced to falling prices and rising availability of new technology. When telecom and cable companies first offered broadband, they naturally started with the toniest neighborhoods. Since 2002, broadband prices have fallen, by more than half in some cases. "Almost all technologies start as something only available to a privileged group, whether it's refrigerators or Net access," says Omar Wasow, strategic adviser to ethnic Internet portal provider Community Connect and co-founder of its site BlackPlanet.com.

2 comments:

Laura said...

There is no question the divide is narrowing but American internet speeds are still very slow compared to other countries. The cost of building out the really high speed infrastructure that will be necessary for the future, like Fiber to the Home, is so high that unless forced, companies will red-line those less than "toniest neighborhoods." We need a national broadband policy that encourages build-out and requires high speed, affordable internet for every neighborhood, whether it is inner city or rural. There are some good policy suggestions and a good speed test at http://www.speedmatters.org.

Martin Weiss said...

But how should it be paid for? Regarding one comparative broadband studies, this article suggests that you should be careful about what you read. The study is available for download if you're interested in digging into it.