June 11, 2020 — A survey from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, conducted in November 2019, is a crucial snapshot of internet usage in America prior to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, revealing a continued gap in bandwidth access. The report is the 15th edition of the agency’s Internet Use Survey.
The data revealed that the digital divide continues to disproportionally impact individuals based on race, income level and age group.
According to the survey, Hispanic and African Americans were 7 percent less likely to have access to the Internet than white Americans, while Asian Americans were 4 percent less likely to have access.
The digital divide especially affects low-income families; just 65 percent of households with incomes below $25,000 a year have access to internet, while 87 percent of those with annual family incomes of $100,000 have access.
The demographic which experienced the largest growth in Internet usage was seniors ages 65 and older, increasing by 5 points to 68 percent.
The survey revealed Americans are increasingly using a wider range of devices to access the internet.
Sixty-four percent of Americans reported using at least two computing devices, and 45 percent reported utilizing three devices. NTIA predicted that the trend of Americans utilizing multiple devices would continue to grow in coming years.
Of course, the ability to access multiple devices differed among demographic groups. People with annual family incomes below $25,000 reported using an average of 1.4 different types of devices, while those with family incomes of $100,000 or more reported using an average of 2.8 device types.
The survey collected data on the popularity of different devices, which has changed dramatically since NTIA began collecting data on computing devices separately.
In 2011, when only 27 percent of Americans utilized smartphones, desktop PCs were the most commonly used computing device. Data collected in the 2019 survey revealed the popularity of smartphones has boomed in recent years, currently used by 68 percent of Americans.
NTIA is working to gain insights into how the pandemic has impacted the digital divide since November.
White House Presses Outreach Initiatives for Affordable Connectivity Program
White House officials urged schools and other local institutions to engage in text-message and social media campaigns for the ACP.
WASHINGTON, September 15, 2022 – The White House on Monday urged schools and other local institutions to engage in text-message and social media campaigns, PSAs, and other community-outreach initiatives to promote enrollment in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program among of families with school-age children.
The Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes internet service bill for low-income households. Monthly discounts of up to $30 are available for non-tribal enrollees, $75 for applicants on qualifying tribal lands. In addition, the ACP offers enrollees a one-time discount $100 on qualifying device purchases.
To boost ACP enrollment, speakers encouraged schools to reach out directly to families. Bharat Ramanurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said text-message campaigns drive up enrollment in government programs. A Massachusetts text-message campaign doubled ACP enrollment rates in subsequent days, said Ramanurti.
Also highlighted was the administration’s “ACP Consumer Outreach Kit,” which provides partners with resources, including fliers, posters, audio PSAs, social-media templates.
In fact, many of these tactics have proved effective in increasing ACP enrollment among telehealth patients. In addition, Microsoft and Communications Workers of America recently announced a circuit of ACP sign-up drives in that will tour several states including Michigan, New York, and North Carolina.
Political considerations as November nears…
As students go back to school and midterm elections loom, new ACP sign-ups could benefit the enrollees as well as the Democrats’ political chances.
Public officials and private experts alike recognize the value of community involvement in extending broadband connectivity and digital literacy nationwide. Marshaling community institutions – like schools – to maximize broadband access could help Biden and other Democrats overcome inflation-driven electoral headwinds in the November midterms. The White House obtained commitments from 20 providers to offer high-speed internet plans for $30 per month or less to ACP-eligible households – this means no out-of-pocket costs for recipients of ACP discounts. Free broadband coverage could bring the administration – and all Democrat candidates, by extension – back into the good graces of low-income families.
Federal Government Must Collect More Granular Data on Minorities to Aid in Initiatives
Discussion on the “data gap” comes as the nation tries to connect the unserved and underserved.
WASHINGTON, August 31, 2022 – In order to serve the needs of all Americans, the federal government must gather and act on more granular data on underrepresented minority groups that have been historically overlooked in the data-gathering process, said Denice Ross, the White House’s chief data scientist.
Ross argued at an online event hosted by the Center for Data Innovation on Tuesday that many minority groups – including African Americans, Native Americans, the disabled, and the LGBT community – are disadvantaged by the “data divide,” a term which refers to disparities in the amount and quality of available data on various groups.
Ross was citing a report issued earlier this year by the Equitable Data Working Group, a task force created by President Joe Biden earlier this year, which said policymakers are often unable to perceive or ameliorate problems facing minority communities if data on those communities are unavailable or insufficiently disaggregated. Disaggregated data, the report says, is “data that can be broken down and analyzed by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, age, or other key demographic variables.”
The report recommends a federal data collection strategy that safeguards privacy and facilitates analysis of “the interconnectedness of identities and experiences,” or how individuals’ various minority-group identities compound the societal disadvantages they face. The report also advocates the creation of “incentives and pathways” promoting minority representation in the data collection process.
The recommendations come as the broadband industry and federal agencies try to improve knowledge of where there are unserved and underserved areas for broadband connectivity and to take action to improve digital literacy. The Illinois Broadband Lab and other state broadband offices, for example, implement a community-up approach to data gathering. Direct community involvement provides data insights that help states deliver coverage to in-need communities, officials say.
In the panel discussion that followed Ross’s opening remarks, experts and academics agreed that community outreach is a necessary step in closing the data divide. Dominique Harrison, director of bank Citi Ventures’ Racial Equity Design and Data Initiative, said that some in the African American community view data collection with skepticism.
Christopher Wood, executive director of LGBT Tech, argued that the passage of a federal privacy standard is a critical step toward establishing trust in government data collection. The most recent attempt to pass a national privacy regime, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last month.
Libraries in Position to Help Promote Federal Programs, Improve Digital Literacy: Library Rep
Libraries can act as gateways to ensure community members know about their broadband subsidy options.
WASHINGTON, August 31, 2022 – Libraries’ close connection with community members allow them to act as gateways for digital literacy, according to the deputy director of the Public Library Association.
Initiatives such as the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program and Emergency Connectivity Fund lower the cost of obtaining broadband coverage and devices, but at least the former has been plagued by a marketing problem.
As the FCC builds its outreach program for to more effectively market the ACP, Larra Clark, deputy director of the PLA and of the Public Policy & Advocacy Office of the American Library Association, said libraries can help promote those programs and help address digital literacy problems as well.
Speaking Monday at a GovExec and Comcast web event, Clark argued that the efforts of government officials, experts, and industry players to provide broadband coverage and the hardware necessary to access it must be accompanied by community-level educational programs.
Many unserved or underserved individuals, however, are unaware of how to get access to broadband, Clark said. And even if unserved and underserved individuals are aware of the programs through which they can obtain broadband, they often lack the digital literacy to navigate application processes.
Clark said she believes that a necessary component of digital literacy outreach is understanding the perspectives on and biases against new technologies in many hard-to-reach communities. “I really believe these human dimensions should be at the forefront of our conversations,” Clark said.
A Texas library system facilitated pandemic relief
At the same event, David Cross, Comcast’s vice president of enterprise sales, offered an example of how libraries can extend broadband assistance to their communities.
During the pandemic, one Texas library system offered parking lot drive-through stations that helped people sign up for government assistance on energy costs. By providing iPads, WiFi access, and staff assistance, Cross said, this program ensured that all in-need community members – including the unserved and the technologically illiterate – were able to access relief and restore power to their homes.
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