WASHINGTON, October 2, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission says that it wants to ensure that the pending national broadband plan addresses the needs of minorities, and the October 2, 2009, workshop heard multiple perspectives on the subject, with a focus on “Diversity and Civil Rights.”
FCC Consumer Research Director John Horrigan said that there is a clear correlation between education level and adoption: those with less than a high school degree only have a broadband penetration rate of about 30 percent.
Minorities are much more likely to access the Internet via mobile devices, he said, although the national average for all Americans is around 32 percent, while it is 47 percent for Hispanics. Although more Hispanics may access the Internet via mobile phones, such phones are generally prepaid and have limited internet capabilities.
The biggest barrier to adoption is the issue of relevance, with 50 percent of those using dial-up to access the Internet saying that they saw no reason to upgrade to a high-speed connection. The lack of available cited by a mere 17 percent.
Another major barrier to access is simply not having a computer, or knowing how to properly use a computer.
While users are able to access a computer at a library or public computing center, these facilities have limited resources and limited hours during which users can gain access. Additionally, many feel unsafe using public computers to do online shopping or banking – which are major drivers for adoption.
Language was another barrier. The 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 82 percent of English-speaking Hispanics had internet access, while only 32 percent of Hispanics who predominantly spoke Spanish had access.
One of the solutions to getting more adoption among minorities was to increase the computer literacy of minority children in schools in order to motivate them to teach their parents and try to get a computer at home, panelists said.
Among the participants in the panel were: David Honig, Executive Director, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council; Allen S. Hammond IV, the Phil and Bobbie Sanfilippo Law Professor, Director of the Broadband Institute of California, Santa Clara University; Geoffrey Blackwell, Director, Strategic Relations and Minority Business Development, Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc.; Mark Pruner, President and co-founder of the Native American Broadband Association and a number of others.
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He compared the service to that of mobile phones versus landlines telephones. While at first there were limitations on mobile phones which made them appear to simply be a complement, as the market matured they eventually became a viable substitute.
Mobile broadband network providers such as Verizon and Sprint have already been delving into the “home” market with their MiFi products. He warned that regulators must look to the future and imagine a market where individuals have three different broadband connection options: cable, mobile and digital subscriber line or fiber-optic.