Groups still falling through the Net
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Oct 17, 2000
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
"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
* 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.