Digital divide: it’s a rural-urban issue but even more a poverty issue

The White House recently released an interesting infographic on the Digital Divide. Here’s a run down of stats…

Overall stats

  • 98 percent of Americans have access to the Internet
  • 75 percent have access at home

Income

  • 80-90 percent of affluent homes have access
  • 50 percent of lowest median income homes have access

Education

  • 90 percent of households where head of house has a BA (or higher degree) have access
  • 79 percent of households where head of house has some college have access
  • 63 percent of households where head of house has a High School degree have access
  • 43 percent of households where head of house has a less than High School degree have access

Ethnicity

  • 87 percent of households where head of house is Asian have access
  • 77 percent of households where head of house is White have access
  • 67 percent of households where head of house is Hispanic have access
  • 61 percent of households where head of house is Black have access
  • 58 percent of households where head of house is Native American have access

And location matters too

white house adoption stats

The Verge broke down differing segments and found that income was the most determining factor…

But when looking at broadband adoption overall, the US places 16th globally. And when you zoom in closer on the map, the divide looks less like one of urban and rural and more like one of class. For example, in several sections of central San Antonio, Texas, less than 65 percent of residents are online, while in sections of the northern suburbs, more than 83 percent are. The central sections are more densely populated but also poorer; the northern sections are more suburban, but wealthier.

This relationship holds true nationally. Both geography and income correlate with internet adoption, but income appears to play a larger role. Going from regions in the bottom quarter ranked by population density to the top quarter results in a 9 percent increase in average internet adoption. But going from the bottom income quartile to the top results in a 24 percent increase.

The findings fit with what Pew Research Center’s Lee Rainie has seen as well. “Rural areas are less likely to have broadband access, but generally if you’re looking at non-adoption, socioeconomic factors are more determinative than geography,” he says. “Income and education are highly correlated with internet use.”

It helps make the case that the Task Force is on task looking at affordability this year. And the Verge highlights the need too…

Consequently, getting everyone online in the US will be a matter of affordability and education, says Raman Jit Singh Chima, policy director at Access Now. Increasing competition among service providers could help lower costs, he says, and extending the FCC Lifeline phone subsidy to cover broadband would put internet access within reach of more people. (Last month, the FCC began the process of extending the Lifeline program to cover broadband.) Increasing internet access at schools and funding education programs at libraries and community centers would show more people how to get online and why doing so is useful.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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