A slew of research reports are generated daily in Washington, D.C. Many of them lead straightforward lives: they’re published, read (at least their executive summaries are), forgotten quickly and end up piled high on shelves.
To avoid that life cycle, the Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications , a 3-year-old effort that seeks to increase understanding of the challenges and opportunities created by digital technologies, looks for academic authors who will write reports that move “beyond the state of current debates and provide insights about the future direction of policy,” to quote Fernando Laguarda, the program’s director. It’s the forward-looking nature of these reports, among other things, that Time Warner Cable hopes will keep them relevant and make them catalysts for debate.
The latest set of three reports was released March 26; all are available free at the program’s site. To keep this article brief, I will comment on two of them, reluctantly omitting Jeffrey Prince’s data-rich work on the importance of cable’s triple play bundle, particularly its role in reducing customer churn.
The report, Connecting the Dots: Linking Broadband Adoption to Job Creation and Job Competitiveness, by Madura Wijewardena, Chanelle Hardy, and Valerie Wilson, goes beyond the traditional examination of broadband adoption rates for minority communities.
Instead these writers from the National Urban League argue that closing the digital divide is not the end in itself. Broadband adoption must be connected to jobs. “Real progress,” they write, “will only occur if the digital divide is closed in a way that enhances employment opportunities for communities hit hard by the recession and the jobless recoveries of the last few decades.” It’s critical that policies to close the divide include not only broadband connectivity and computers but also provisions for:
- Digital literacy, with training that enhances job competitiveness; and
- Business development, so that “African Americans become job creators….”
The authors also offer a number of concrete policy recommendations that link broadband adoption to jobs and job creation.
Like the above report, the next study, Broadband Adoption and Internet Use among Latinos, by Matthew Matsaganis, also advances the debate about broadband use, specifically in Latino communities. Surveying 1,600 Latino families in 2010, it found myriad differences in broadband adoption and use within the Latino community, with some breaking down along economic and educational lines, but others not doing so.
For example, Matsaganis notes “limited digital literacy is likely a concern among Latinos across the Internet access continuum.” For evidence, he notes home broadband users scored higher on a three-item Internet literacy scale than dial-up Internet users and non-connectors, but not significantly better compared to mobile and nomadic Internet users. And 65% of home broadband adopters answered correctly just one or no questions designed to capture Internet literacy. A total of 83% of non-connectors answered one or no questions correctly, while 14% got all of them right.
He also found 77% of Latinos who chose the Internet as their top communication resource for deciding which tech devices to purchase, said they browsed sites in English. By contrast, 76% of Latinos who indicated TV was their top choice said they watched Spanish-language channels. He concludes that “further research is necessary to determine whether the availability of culturally relevant Spanish-language content online influences Internet use and broadband adoption among Latinos.”
Clearly these studies have generated plenty of food for thought on important digital topics and should provide material to continue an informed debate.