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Commerce Report Shows Diminishing Digital Divide

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/Digital Inclusion/Education/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2010 -  After a year of data crunching and analysis, the Commerce Department has released a report titled “Exploring the Digital Nation Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States,” concluding that a digital divide still exists but is decreasing.

Yet almost one-fourth of all households did not have a single internet user. The study found that income and education have some of the most significant factors in determining if users have broadband at home. Additionally, cost remained one of the main reasons why users do not upgrade to broadband.

Taking a comparative view from 2007 to 2009. Broadband use in the home grow from 51 percent to 64 percent while non-use dropped 6 percent. The table below describes the basic demographic characterizes of broadband users. The data holds no real surprises. In relation to income, broadband usage increases as income increases, the same also holds true for education levels. This correlation between income and broadband usage

Looking at racial/ethnic data, Asians have the highest level of adoption at 77 percent followed by whites at 68 percent and blacks following behind at 49 percent.

One of the more interesting findings from the report is that the divide exists mainly between rural and urban users. “Only about 28 percent of rural dwellers with incomes less than $25,000 had broadband internet at home, compared to 38 percent of their urban counterparts and 86 percent of their high-income rural counterparts.  A similar pattern holds for demographic groups defined by race, ethnicity, and education.”

They attribute the difference between the urban and rural to the inherent differences in rural versus urban economies.

“For instance, income and education are likely to be higher in urban areas if employment opportunities requiring high levels of skills and specialization are disproportionately located in urban areas.  As a result, it is not clear from the tabulations we have seen so far how much of the urban-rural gap in adoption is driven by differences in income and education between urban and rural residents.  The same issue applies for race and ethnicity, that is, looking at average adoption levels by race and ethnicity does not tell us how much of the adoption gap associated with race and ethnicity is explained by differences in socio-economic factors,” reads the report.

They also state that race or socio-economic status are not the only limiting factors. With most non-adopters citing price the higher cost of access in rural areas is a key factor. Additionally in urban areas there are often more places to obtain access such as coffee shops, public computer centers which allow users to see how broadband is beneficial which instigates home installation.

The biggest reason why non-adopters give for not subscribing to broadband is lack of need or interest. Following it is the cost with 26 percent claiming that the service is too expensive. The other reasons given including lack of a computer or not available each represent smaller percentage.

The survey also found that nearly 5 percent of households still use dial-up service to connect because they claim that broadband is too expensive.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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