Groups still fall through the Net

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

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

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.

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

advancement and to community participation," Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta

said. "[The report] shows there's been some progress between the haves

and have-nots, but there's still plenty of work."

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.

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.

The report also gauged usage by persons with disabilities. It said they

are only half as likely to have access as 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.

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