Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders: Linguistic Barriers to Broadband Adoption

Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders: Linguistic Barriers to Broadband Adoption


Recent studies on broadband adoption in minority communities provide impressive data for the U.S. Asian American/Pacific Islander (AA/PI) population.  For example, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 87% of Asian-Americans use the internet and 80% have broadband at home.   A whopping 87% of participants are online every day.  These numbers outpace every other racial group, including whites.  However, when one takes a closer look at the numbers, they are representative of only English-speaking Asian-Americans.  When one looks at the demographics of the growing U.S. AA/PI population the data provided in these studies proves deceptive and vastly underestimates the language barriers to broadband adoption in this community.

Approximately 60% of AA/PIs are foreign-born and 30% have limited English proficiency (LEP); the numbers presented in the Pew study take on a different meaning when as much as 30% of the community’s population is unaccounted for.   This is compounded by the diversity of the AA/PI population – the term “Asian” comprises over 20 countries and ethnicities speaking more than 100 languages.   Within the AA/PI community there is a strong correlation between higher LEP rates and higher poverty rates.  Among the Hmong, which has a 61% LEP rate, there is a 53% poverty rate.  The Cambodian community, with an LEP of 56%, has a 40% poverty rate.

The demographics of the AA/PI community exacerbate these issues since they do not support an increase in English proficiency.  In a historical trend found among recent immigrants, many AA/PIs linguistically isolate themselves by living in communities with immigrants from the same country.   For example, 47% of Koreans and 45% of Vietnamese live in these kinds of linguistically isolated areas.  In 2006, close to 80% of AA/PIs speak a language other than English at home, as compared to 18% of the total U.S. population.

Just as in other non-English speaking communities, broadband adoption is hindered by this language barrier.  Addressing this language barrier is a particular challenge within the AA/PI community because of the diversity of the population and the languages spoken.  Pew addressed the complexity in conducting interviews for its studies with the AA/PI community stating that “[t]he diversity of the Asian-American population and the languages they speak makes offering interviews in those native languages very difficult and very, very expensive.”

The FCC’s Agency Plan for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders targets the improvement of digital literacy by providing translations of a selection of consumer-oriented broadband materials into 11 Asian languages.  Even these efforts, while a step in the right direction, still fall short of the breadth necessary to address the problem on a large scale.

Because of the inclusive nature of AA/PI communities, a more successful approach targets existing community-based organizations to promote broadband access and literacy.  For example, the Little Tokyo Service Center in Los Angeles provides technology classes in its bilingual computer centers and WiFi hotspots in low-income neighborhoods.  The organization has succeeded in expanding digital literacy in its community by providing broadband in an accessible and culturally-appropriate way.


  1. Really? When will these blogspressions go beyond being marketing tools for specific businesses — (including non-profits) that sound like self-serving media tools. Surely there is a higher expectation of sophistication from the masses and the spaces in between.