If you happen to be reading this article on theGrio, then you’re already part of the digitally connected. But for anyone who cares about ensuring that 100 percent of our community, and all Americans, get “connected” in the digital age, two recent reports released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project — Home Broadband 2010 and Mobile Access 2010 — are a must read.
A closer look at the Pew studies reveals that real progress is being made, through home broadband and wireless internet-connected devices, toward closing the digital divide for African-Americans. For example, from 2009 to 2010, the home broadband year-over-year usage rate of African-Americans increased by 22 percent from 46 percent to 56 percent, while the rate for white Americans and Hispanics remained largely steady. As a result, what was a 19 percent gap (whites 65 percent/African-Americans 46 percent) between white and African American home broadband rates in 2009, has dropped to an 11 percent gap (whites 67 percent/ African-Americans 56 percent) in one year. Moreover, Pew found that African Americans “lead the way” over whites and Hispanics in connecting to the internet through mobile handheld devices, and rank #1 when it comes to wireless data application usage.
Perhaps more important than these connectivity numbers, however, is what the Pew study uncovered about the value and importance African-Americans see in having broadband internet access at home. In the following five key categories African-Americans were significantly more likely than whites to view the lack of home broadband access as a “major disadvantage”:
- “Finding out about job opportunities/career skills” (African-American 53 percent / white 39 percent)
- “Getting health information” (African-American 45 percent /white 30 percent)
- “Learning new things to improve/enrich life” (African-American 37 percent/white 28 percent)
- “Using government services” (African-American 38 percent/white 26 percent)
- “Keeping up with local community” (African-American 33 percent / white 14 percent)
So what do all of these numbers mean?
Here are a few important takeaways.
First, although African-Americans continue to trail whites in home broadband connectivity, that gap is shrinking significantly because our community understands how important it is to be connected when it comes to finding a job, managing our health, enriching our lives and engaging government and our community.
Second, we have embraced the mobile internet in huge numbers — largely eradicating the digital divide in that medium — and are now on the forefront of using mobile internet applications.
Third, for those African-Americans — many who(m) are older and lower income — who continue to lack home broadband access, digital literacy programs and educational efforts around the value of being “connected” are critically important.
Fourth, and possibly most importantly, the current wireless and wire line marketplace, both of which are driven by private investment and minimal regulatory burdens, are working for African-Americans, so we should be inherently wary and skeptical of government efforts to change the system through policies such as net neutrality.
As Co-Chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance, I urge everyone concerned about broadband, technology, and equal opportunity to join me in taking up the cause of 100 percent broadband, so that everyone in our community can benefit from the empowerment that comes from being digitally connected.