Digital Divide Persists in US

More Americans than ever have access to telephones, computers, and the Internet, but a digital divide remains between “haves” and “have nots,” according to a report by the US Department of Commerce.

The report “Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide” found that access to computers and the Internet for Americans in all demographic groups and geographic locations soared at the end of 1998, due in part, to the success of pro-competition policies. More than 40 percent of US households owned computers, one-quarter had Internet access, and 94.1 percent of US households were connected by telephone at the end of 1998.

Despite these findings, the report also found that significant disparities still remain between certain demographic groups and geographic regions. These gaps, according to the report, have recently grown in many cases.

“While we are encouraged by the dramatic growth in the access Americans have to the nation’s information technologies, the growing disparity in access between certain groups and regions is alarming, Commerce Secretary William Daley said.

Some examples from the report:

  • Between 1997 and 1998, the divide between the highest and lowest education levels increased 25 percent
  • In the same time period, the divide between the highest and lowest income levels grew 29 percent
  • Households with incomes of $75,000or higher are more than 20 times more likely to have access to the Internet than those at the lowest incomes levels and more than 9 times as likely to have a computer at home
  • Whites are more likely to have access to the Internet from home than Blacks or Hispanics are to have access from any location
  • Black and Hispanic households are approximately one-third as likely to have home Internet access than households of Asia/Pacific Islander descent, and roughly 40 percent as likely as White households
  • Regardless of income levels, those living in rural areas are lagging behind in computer and Internet access. At some income levels, those in urban areas are 50 percent more likely to have Internet access than those earning the same income in rural areas.

“America’s digital divide is fast becoming a ‘racial ravine,'” said Larry Irving, assistant secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications. “It is now one of America’s leading economic and civil rights issues and we have to take concrete steps to redress the gap between the information haves and have nots.”

The report is the third on the digital divide issued by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The study is based on data collected by the US Census Bureau from 48,000 households.

Percent of US Households Using the Internet
Race Geographic Region
US Rural Urban Central
White non-Hispanic 29.8 23.7 32.4 32.3
Black non-Hispanic 11.2 7.1 11.7 10.2
AIEA non-Hispanic 18.9 12.8 22.5 20.2
API non-Hispanic 36.0 24.7 36.5 33.3
Hispanic 12.6 9.8 12.9 10.2
Source: US Dept. of Commerce

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