Friday, June 25, 2010

100 Million Americans Are on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide

Only 65% of Americans have broadband at home, even though it’s available to 95%. The estimated 100 million Americans who lack broadband at home say they cannot afford it, they don’t know how to use it, believe it is irrelevant to their lives, or can’t get it. These were the findings of the Pew Center on the States report entitled Bringing America Up To Speed: States’ Role in Expanding Broadband, which was released on June 21st.

The report acknowledges that the 65% figure masks large disparities among subscribers based on several factors, including income. The researchers found:

“The group of people without broadband at home – an estimated 100 million Americans – tends to be less educated, lower wage-earning and older than those who use the service. Of adults who are high school graduates, 46 percent use broadband at home, compared with 82 percent of those who attended or graduated from college. Usage falls along similar income lines: Approximately 40 percent of households with earnings of less than $20,000 annually are broadband users, while 87 percent of households with incomes exceeding $50,000 use broadband at home. Non-adopters also more frequently belong to minority or disabled populations or live in rural areas. In fact, individuals with disabilities make up 39 percent of non-adopters nationally.”

Several states and cities have implemented creative programs to address these issues. The report cited to the NYC Connected Learning Project, which received $22 million in federal stimulus funding to distribute 18,000 computers and to provide bilingual training and a one-year, free home broadband subscription to low income sixth graders and their families. The group expects the program to reach 40,000 individuals throughout the City and has numerous collateral benefits, including exposure to broadband by parents, older generations in the home, and extended family and friends. In fact, City officials estimate that 12,000 households will continue their subscriptions beyond the year of free service.

PULP agrees that the activities in the states should be considered proving grounds for potential nationwide implementation programs to bring broadband to those who currently go without. We continue to advocate for the creation of a both a federal and state Lifeline-like program to make broadband access more affordable, which would require all customers to contribute a small amount, either directly through a line item charge or indirectly through slightly increased rates, to ensure all can afford access to this ever increasingly vital connection .

Lou Manuta

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