Groups still falling through the Net

Internet access is rapidly increasing across ethnic, racial, economic, geographic

and gender groups, but according to a Commerce Department study released

Monday, the gap is widening between certain minority groups and the national

average.

"Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion" is the fourth in

a series of Commerce Department reports measuring the digital divide, which

last reported its findings in April 1999.

"Each year, being connected becomes more critical to economic and educational

advancement and to community participation," Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta

said during a conference call. "[The report] shows there's been some progress

between the haves and have-nots, but there's still plenty of work to do."

Overall, Internet access "soared" to 41.5 percent of American households

in August 2000, compared with 26.2 percent reported December 1998, the report

said. More than half the households also have access to computers, up from

42.1 percent in December 1998. Individuals logging on increased by a third

over that time, to nearly 45 percent.

African-American and Hispanic households have also seen "impressive

gains" in Internet access, the report said, with both groups twice as likely

to have access than 20 months ago. But the gap between these groups and

the national average widened during that time.

The gap between African-American households and the national average

is 18 percent, three percentage points higher than what existed in December

1998; for Hispanic households, the gap is 17.9 percent, or 4.3 percentage

points higher. Internet access from home is also lower than the national

average for these groups. The report said differences in income and education

"do not fully account for this facet of the digital divide," but when asked

what other differences existed, Assistant Commerce Secretary Greg Rohde

said analysis of the statistics was not in the scope of the report.

For the first time, the report also gauged usage by persons with disabilities.

It said they are only half as likely to have access than those without disabilities,

21.6 percent compared with 42.1 percent. And people with impaired vision

and problems with manual dexterity have even lower rates of access than

those with hearing and mobility problems.

Other highlights of the report:

* Rural households increased 75 percent from December 1998.

* Disparity in Internet usage between men and women has largely disappeared.

* Of all age groups, Americans 50 years or older had the highest increase

in usage rate, growing 53 percent from December 1998. But they are still

less likely than younger groups to use the Internet.

* Internet access across all income levels, particularly the middle

class, grew. And usage across all education levels has increased as well,

particularly in households headed by those with "some college experience."

* Two-parent households are twice as likely to have access than single-parent

households.

* Broadband services are used by nearly 11 percent of online households,

but rural areas lag behind cities and urban areas in this area.

* Americans use the Internet largely for e-mail but also for online

shopping and paying bills. Low-income users reported using the Internet

for job hunting.

More Internet access should be provided through schools, libraries and

other public access points, Mineta said, adding that people should also

take advantage of the low cost of computers to gain access.

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