The Digital Divide

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Enthusiasm for the anticipated social dividends of the Internet appears boundless. Indeed, the Internet is expected to do no less than virtually transform society. Yet even as the Internet races ambitiously toward critical mass, some social scientists and politicians are beginning to carefully examine the current implications of Internet access and usage and coined the phrase, “digital divide”. Defined, digital divide is a difference in rates of access to computers and the Internet among different demographic groups. In a statement before Congress, then Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications Larry Irving warned of Americas digital divide. In his testimony he said [the digital divide] is now one of Americas leading economic and civil rights issues and we have to take concrete steps to redress the gap between the information haves and have nots.

Americans bought home computers and hooked them up to the Internet at a remarkable rate between December 18 and August 000. In just 0 months, the share of households with Internet access soared by 58%, from 6.% to 41.5%, while the share of households with computers rose from 4.1% to 51.0%. More than 80% of households with computers also have Internet access today.

The rapid uptake of the Internet is best explained by the growing percentage of households with computers or other devices that connect to the Internet. In 17, just over half of all households with computers had Internet access. By 000, that figure had surged to four out of five households.

The tremendous growth in household computer and Internet use has occurred across all demographic groups, including income and education levels, races, locations, and household types. Nevertheless, some Americans are still connecting at far lower rates than others, thus creating a digital divide.

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In 18 Hoffman and Novak examined racial differences in Internet use at a single time point and found in 17 that whites were significantly more likely than blacks to have a home computer in their household, slightly more likely to have PC access at work, and significantly more likely to have ever used the Web at home. Increasing levels of income corresponded to an increased likelihood of owning a home computer regardless of race; however, Hoffman and Novak found that whites were still more likely to own a home computer than were blacks and to have used the Web recently.

A second study conducted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a department within the U.S. Department of Commerce, found that as recently as October 000, households of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced the greatest growth in home Internet access in the last two years an increase of 0%, from 6.0% in 18. White households continued to have the second highest rate of access at 46.1% and experienced a growth of 16. percentage points (from .8% in 18). At the other end of the spectrum, black and Hispanic households continued to experience the lowest Internet access rates at .5% and .6%, respectively.

The issue of race and the digital divide even extends to those who create technology. Studies show blacks and Latinos rarely occupy information technology jobs, let alone powerful posts in Silicon Valley companies�a condition that caused Jesse Jackson to bring in his anti-discrimination movement. The widening rift threatens to exacerbate an already growing disparity in wealth and consign millions of people to second-class citizenship in the new economy.

One prevailing factor contributing to the digital divide is the cost of owning a home computer with Internet access, versus income. Although computers and Internet access are coming down in price, they are still sufficiently expensive that household income remains an important factor in home Internet access.

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