The Digital Divide: How The Math Works

The Digital Divide: How The Math Works


We’re all aware that the 21st century is the digital century. The development of the e-economy is the most well noted difference between this century and the preceding century.

But, the persistent question is: Do most citizens participate in the American e-economy? And why is full participation so important?

That answer is no. And that level of participation is even more troubling in the U.S. due to divides along along socio-economic lines, which has a negative impact on our growth prospects as a nation.

National challenges like the U.S. broadband adoption rate, reflect individual American citizens’ capacity to employ 21st century vehicles of economic mobility such as information and communications technology. Without full participation we jeopardize our competitiveness as a nation.

The European Union debt crisis now hangs before us. Like any potential disaster that threatens world financial collapse, perhaps our best chance of growth should be how we deploy our technology and make it much more accessible.  Recovery (and resuscitation) should be a top priority – but, recovery how? In other words: we should consider that the Internet economy contributes $2 trillion annually to the U.S. economy and is responsible for 15% of U.S. economic growth.

The prospects of universal service and high broadband adoption in the U.S. would make an enormous difference for the national economy. What follows are a set of U.S. broadband vital signs:

Home Broadband Adoption

Trends in home computer use and broadband adoption rates continue to diverge based on location, age, education, income and ethnicity. The most recent data from the NTIA (2011) study on Computer and Internet Use at Home shows the following patterns of use and adoption:

Citizens with the highest home computer use and broadband adoption rates are urbanities with incomes $100,000 or more (96%) and citizens with the lowest home computer use and broadband adoption rates lack a high school diploma and live in rural areas (26%). Across the board, both computer use and broadband adoption is higher for urban dwellers than for people living in rural areas.

Computer Use for people living in urban areas by ethnic groups (in order of lowest to highest) is as follows:

  • 66% African American
  • 67% Hispanic American
  • 74% Native American
  • 82% White American
  • 86% Asian American

Home Broadband Adoption by ethnic group:

  • 53% African American
  • 58% Hispanic American
  • 66% Native American
  • 75% White American
  • 81% Asian American

The NTIA study also reports the Broadband Internet Adoption gap, which shows the following disparities:

  • 13 percentage points in home broadband between urban and rural households
  • 16 percentage points gap between White American and African American homes
  • 15 percentage point between White American and Hispanic American homes
  • 9 percentage points difference in broadband Internet adoption between Asian American and White households

Wireless Adoption

The most recent 2010 data on Mobile Internet Access from the Pew Research Center shows that the highest percentage of wireless Internet users (84%) are aged 18-29 and that households with incomes greater than $75,000 (80%), and college graduates (76%) are also in the high wireless use category.

Wireless Internet Users by ethnic group:

  • 64% of African Americans,
  • 63% of Hispanic Americans, and
  • 57% of white Americans were wireless Internet users

Within the population of wireless users it is important to distinguish laptop users from mobile phone users (people accessing the Internet from these devices) and to consider the number of people that own multiple devices. Additionally, the percentage of people that only have wireless access is on the rise, particularly among low-income Americans. See Infographic on wireless-only use around the world.

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