Report: Income, not ethnicity, determines access

As income levels among ethnic groups vary from state to state, so does the width of the digital divide, a Forrester Research Inc. report found.

The report compares the width of the divide between the technology haves and have-nots, or the divide between Caucasians and the largest ethnic minority in each state, mostly Hispanics and African Americans. The study found that the divide in southern states is the widest.

Forrester found three categories of states:

    * Greatly divided: 16 states, mostly in the South. Internet adoption by the state's largest minority (either African Americans or Hispanics), trails Caucasians by a wider margin the U.S. average.

    * Divided: 14 states, minority populations are around the U.S. average of online penetration.

    * Narrowly divided: African Americans and Hispanics favor the best in these nine states, mostly east of the Mississippi River.

(The remaining 11 states had insufficient minority population to be included in the study.)

The study determined "that the digital divide is not driven by ethnicity but by disparities in each group's income, age, technology optimism and education."

The study found that seven of the 10 states with the lowest median incomes for African Americans have a large digital divide. And the median income for Hispanics in deeply divided states is $3,000 below the $39,000 national average, but in narrowly divided states, it is $4,000 above the national average.

To close the gap, the report suggests that policy-makers work to subsidize Internet access in schools, libraries and workplaces since many minorities access the Internet outside their homes.

It also says that federal funds should be directed at states with the largest divides. The report notes that in Texas and Tennessee, home to presidential candidates George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, African Americans lag behind Caucasians by some of the widest margins. In Texas, they lag by 14 percent, and in Tennessee, by 16 percent.

"Presidential candidates Bush and Gore should check out their own backyards before touring the country to speak out against the digital divide," the report said.

Of thousands of surveys that were sent out in January for the report, 80,000 were returned nationwide and comprise the results.

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