The new report from The Children's Partnership found that Internet information available today does not meet the needs of 20 percent of Americans.
Editor's Note: While much of the information in this article is no longer current, it remains an interesting summary of reports about the digital divide in 2002. For more current information, visit our Digital Divide Resource Roundup.
A ten-year national investment in wiring schools, libraries, and other public centers has made a tremendous difference in bridging a digital divide defined as the gap between those people with access to communications and technology tools and those without it. In fact, the current Administration has pointed to the gains made across all groups to scale back government funding for a variety of technology programs. The debate is growing with one side saying "the invisible hand" of the free market is taking care of the problem, and another pressing to save federal investments they feel are critical to connecting all Americans.
The following reports make important contributions to the debate around the digital divide. They explore the nation's successes in bridging the divide as well as the challenges it faces in determining next steps.
A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet
This February 2002 report from the Department of Commerce is the latest in an ongoing series about computer and Internet use in America. The research reports that there has been rapid growth in the use of information technologies across all demographic groups and geographic regions. In September 2001, about 54 percent of the population were using the Internet -- an increase of 26 million in a period of thirteen months. It was also found that computer use in school substantially narrows the gap in computer usage for children from high- and low-income families.
You can access Word, PDF, and HTML versions of A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet on the Department of Commerce's National Technology and Information Administration (NTIA) Web site.
Latinos and Information Technology: The Promise and the Challenge
Released in February 2002, this report commissioned by IBM and prepared by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) provides a comprehensive look at the Hispanic digital divide. Authored by Louis G. Tornatzky, Ph.D., Elsa E. Macias, Ph.D., and Sara Jones, the report is a collection of all the Institute's available data on Latinos and information technology.
The fastest-growing minority group in the United States, Latinos continue to trail whites and other minority groups in owning computers, Internet use, and e-commerce activities. Despite being the largest ethnic minority in more than twenty-three states, Hispanics are severely underrepresented in the information technology (IT) workforce. The report notes that the problem of Latino preparation and participation in the IT workforce are inseparable from the education and training of their parents. Many of the Latino parents surveyed do not understand the link between education and opportunities in the IT industry.
The report goes on to note that the World Wide Web lacks a true mix of cultural viewpoints. For example, Web sites for Latinos must translate content from English to Spanish and do more to provide content that addresses the communities they serve. The rapidly growing number of small businesses owned by Latinos must also learn to integrate networked technologies into their operations.
Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide's New Frontier
The Children's Partnership and the Markle Foundation have released an issue brief updating their comprehensive March 2000 analysis, Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide's New Frontier. This report looks at the extent to which the Internet offers content and tools for the estimated 50 million Americans with low incomes, limited-literacy or language skills, or disabilities. The new brief analyzes relevant shifts in Internet use, access, and demand; provides an updated snapshot of online content; and identifies key changes in the availability of relevant content since March 2000.
The brief found that Internet information available today still does not meet the needs of 20 percent of Americans. This includes low-income Americans seeking resources to find employment and affordable housing, as well as non-English speakers who need information in languages other than English. The report also noted that expanding access to schools, community centers, and libraries has been successful in helping underserved populations find important resources. There has also been research and anecdotal evidence that gains in employment, education, and community development are the result of technology training and access.
Does the Digital Divide Still Exist? Bush Administration Shrugs, But Evidence Says Yes
The Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy, Consumer Federation of America, and Consumers Union released a study in May 2002 refuting the Bush Administration's conclusion that government intervention is no longer necessary to bridge the digital divide.
Taking the numbers from A Nation Online, the report demonstrates that large gaps still exist between low- and high-income households. The report concludes by pointing to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that mandates "specific and predictable support mechanisms" to preserve universal service. The act mandates that emerging telecommunications services may fall into the category of universal service when they have "been subscribed to by a substantial majority of residential customers." The fact that 54 percent of Americans are now online should mean that the Internet could soon become worthy of universal service support.
The report, Does the Digital Divide Still Exist? Bush Administration Shrugs, But Evidence Says Yes (PDF), is available on the Consumer Federation of America website.