Broadband Gaps Not Based on Socio-Economics Alone

Broadband Gaps Not Based on Socio-Economics Alone


A new study, Digital Nation II, released today by the U.S. Commerce Department in collaboration with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) revealed that socio-economic factors like income and education alone are not predictors of home broadband adoption.  In rendering their findings, Commerce and NTIA analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s October 2009 Internet Usage Survey of 54,000 households.

“An African-American household with the same income and education level as a white household is still less likely to have broadband access,” said Rebecca Blank, the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for economic affairs.  “That finding is quite striking, and it’s not something we expected to see.”  Blank also noted that Digital Nation II is the “most comprehensive analysis of broadband usage,” to date.

According to Communications Technology, findings of the report include revelations that:

  • Seven out of ten American households used the Internet in 2009. The majority of these households used broadband to access the Internet at home. Almost one-fourth of all households, however, did not have an Internet user.
  • Income and education are strongly associated with broadband Internet use at home but are not the sole determinants.
  • Broadband Internet adoption was higher among White households than among Black and Hispanic households. Differences in socio-economic attributes do not explain the entire gap associated with race and ethnicity.
  • A similar pattern holds for urban and rural locations. Urban residents were more likely than their rural counterparts to adopt broadband Internet, even after accounting for socio-economic differences.
  • In contrast, differences in socio-economic and geographic characteristics do explain a substantial portion of the broadband adoption lag among people with disabilities.
  • Broadband adoption also varies with age, with the elderly population much less likely than their younger counterparts to use home broadband Internet services.
  • Lack of need or interest, lack of affordability, lack of an adequate computer, and lack of availability were all stated as the main reasons for not having home broadband Internet access. The significance of these factors, however, varied across non-users, with affordability and demand generally dominating.
  • Internet non-users reported lack of need or interest as their primary reason for not having broadband at home. This group accounted for two-thirds of those who don’t have broadband at home. In contrast, households that did not use the Internet specifically at home but did use the Internet elsewhere ranked affordability as the primary deterrent to home broadband adoption. This group represented almost one-fourth of those who don’t have broadband at home.
  • Households that use dial-up service cited affordability as the main reason for not adopting broadband at home. For rural residents using dial-up service, lack of broadband availability was reported as a significant factor.
  • Between 2001 and 2009, broadband Internet use among households rose sevenfold, from 9 percent to 64 percent of American households.

As reported by CNN, in a conversation with Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

The report debunks the misconception that income and educational levels alone can explain gaps in high-speed internet adoption.

“A lot of people assume these disparities are due just to income and education, but there seems to be more going on than that,” West said. “It’s not clear exactly what explains those differences, but the numbers suggests it’s not just income that creates the digital divide.”


  1. This is a great study, I think its really important for the government to have and consider this data when creating its policy initiatives. I only wish they would have had this information prior to formulating and disseminating funds from the broadband stimulus programs.

  2. We must attribute cause as to why minorities would be less likely than whites at the same levels of income and education to adopt broadband services. This should be dually noted for urban adopters vs. rural adopters. It seems, as is more powerfully reflected in the urban vs. rural disparity, that the relative degrees of separation from service or from those able to access service may be to blame. In my expansive travels I have seen many examples in which the degree of separation one might be from wealth or from education can dictate their standard of living and, or lifestyle. In other words, if you have a rich uncle, or an aunt with a PhD., whether or not you ascribe to the same values, your access to services and your ability to navigate society in spite of yourself will be greater. Which group is more likely to be closer in proximity in access?