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Latinos Closing Digital Divide: Pew

A new study has found double-digit growth in the percentage of adult Latino Americans using the Internet, an uptick that outpaced the Internet adoption rates of both blacks and whites.

In 2008, 64 percent of Latinos were using the Internet, up 10 percentage points from the 54 percent reported in 2006, according to researchers at the Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Internet and American Life Project.

During that same period, Internet usage among whites increased four percentage points, and just two percentage points among blacks.

By Pew's latest tally, a higher percentage of Latinos are now online than blacks, a segment that reported a 63 percent Internet usage rate in the most recent survey. Pew has found that 76 percent of whites say they use the Internet.

When Pew looks at Internet usage, the researchers consider both home connections and other ways people might gain access, such as through computers at school or work. In the most recent study, the researchers noted that Latinos, like African Americans, are more likely to live in households without a landline, suggesting that many users could be accessing the Internet through their mobile devices.

But Pew's report is based on a phone survey that only reaches households with landlines, leading the researchers to conclude that, if anything, their findings underestimate the number of Latinos using the Internet.

The researchers found only a marginal gain among home Internet usage among Latinos, mirroring a similar leveling off in home connections among white and black Americans. At the same time, more respondents said that they were using broadband connections.

The overall growth was driven by rising usage rate among low-income segments of the population. The portion of Latinos from household earning less than $30,000 using the Internet climbed 17 percentage points, while higher income brackets reported little or no increases.

Other factors linked with higher usage rates included education level and the ability to read English.

The findings will likely come as a welcome sign to policymakers concerned with the digital divide. The findings of the Pew Internet Project are among the most widely cited in broadband policy debates. Earlier this year, the group's associate director, John Horrigan, left Pew to join the Federal Communications Commission's task force developing a national broadband plan.

The Obama administration has talked loudly and frequently about the importance of universal Internet access and adoption, a push that has already materialized in some policy changes. In addition to the plan the FCC is putting together, Congress has set aside $7.2 billion in stimulus funding for broadband projects, with the first awards announced earlier this month.