San Diego not spared divide

San Diego Regional Technology Alliance

Technologically progressive San Diego County leads the nation in addressing the digital divide, according to a recent study by a public/private technology group. But all is not necessarily well there.

Cliff Numark, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Technology Alliance (www.sdrta.org), said the gap between Caucasians and Hispanics, in terms of computer ownership and Internet access, is much larger in San Diego than in the rest of the United States.

"That's worrisome," he said. "San Diego has a technology-based economy, and we need the workforce to power the economy."

His group undertook the six-month initiative that resulted in "Mapping a Future for Digital Connections: A Study of the Digital Divide in San Diego County" because no one knew the extent of the problem, Numark said. The group surveyed 1,000 residents who were representative of the county's demographics.

The study revealed that lower-income households, single-family households, less-educated people, elderly people and minority groups were less likely to own computers and use the Internet.

But the study said Hispanics were even more disadvantaged than other groups in San Diego, as well as nationally. Although Hispanics are 25 percent of the county's population, they represent 42 percent of the "unwired population." Among full-time employees, Hispanics have the lowest rates of Internet connection, about 78 percent — 16 percent below the average.

Also, more than 50 percent of Asians, African Americans and Hispanics believe technology is relied upon too much. More than half said "technology poses a threat to freedom."

Although Numark said he understood why African Americans and Hispanics would express that view, he couldn't explain why that would hold true for Asians, who have among the highest rates of computer ownership and Internet access.

The study recommends better outreach to the community, including organizing forums and inviting leaders from the public, educational and private sectors, and investigating novel methods to support computer ownership.

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