Root cause of digital divide – wealth

I just ran into a fantastic piece on Mashable that I just has to share. I have been very deeply vested in the topic of Digital Divide in America for some time. I recently wrote a blog post on the subject on govloop that generated some interesting commentary ( I have been searching desperately for statistics that correlate the adoption and access to technology against different variables such as wealth, age, profession, and others to understand what are the strongest influencers. This latest report from Pew International seems to do just that. Credits to Pew International and Mashable. I am sharing the Mashable article below including a link to the original report. enjoy!


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The Great Wealth Divide in Internet Usage [STATS]

The fact that people who make more money spend more time on computers and connected devices doesn’t come as a major surprise. Yet it’s still impressive that a full 95% of people with an income of $75,000 or more use cellphones and the Internet, according to a recent study from Pew’s Internet & American Life Project.

“Those in higher income households are more likely to use the Internet on any given day, own multiple Internet-ready devices, do things involving money online and get news online,” Jim Jansen wrote in Pew’s summary of the findings.

Still, some of the results only verify what we already assumed; more income means more mobile devices and more Internet consumption. But what’s interesting is where the tipping point for Internet use along the span of household incomes occurs.

For instance, 70% of those who make less than $75,000 use the Internet at least occasionally, while 95% of those who make more than that use the Internet at least occasionally. Within that 95% of people who use the Internet, 99% of them use the Internet at home. Only 93% of Internet users in the lower income bracket use the Internet at home.

Not surprisingly, the study found a similar pattern for technology ownership, too.

When it comes to desktop computers, 79% of households that earn $75,000 or own at least one, compared to just 55% of households with lower income.
For laptop ownership, the rate was even less for lower income households at 47%, though 79% of higher income households owned laptops.
A major gap exists between income groups that own MP3s and iPods, too. Some 70% of higher income households own them, compared to just 42% of households that earn less.
Tablets and e-readers, though less prolific in either group, are owned by only 3% of lower income households; 12% of higher-income households own e-readers and another 9% own tablets, like the iPad.
The gap between income groups and tech ownership seems closest for one specific kind of device: game consoles. Just more than half (54%) of higher-income households own game consoles, compared to 41% of households that earn less than $75,000.

Researchers also took into account different age groups, races, communities (suburban vs. rural vs. urban), education levels and other factors that might seem to influence Internet and technology use. But, according to the report, the differences among those groups were slight. The biggest determining factor still seemed to be income.

“The control factor did not add major explanatory effect to the relationship that was not explained by income level,” the report states. “Simply put, a person’s household income is an independent predictor of the likelihood that she or he will be an Internet and e-mail user and to be associated with the online activities we cite in this report.”

The 13-page report [] also delves into e-commerce behaviors, Internet-enabled devices and online news consumption. The data from the report was collected via three telephone surveys of more than 7,000 adults.

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Henry Brown

Knee Jerk Reaction is DUH!

Where it gets somewhat “scary” is how or even do we address the issue of the fact that the lowest incomes do NOT have Access to technology? Or do “we” concentrate our effort on improving the numbers for those who can afford it?

Andrew Krzmarzick

I saw this report, too, Sonny and was going to share it – thanks for posting a really nice commentary.

Henry – My gut: one of the key pillars of government 2.0 or open government in my mind is greater access to information and participation by a greater number of citizens. Addressing the digital divide is a critical component of the movement. I’ve written more about my thoughts in a blog titled “Open Gov: Leaving Thousands of Citizens Behind”.

Sonny Hashmi

Andrew, I agree. I echoed similar sentiments in my previous digital divide post. I think finding ways to get those left behind access, means and ability to leverage technology has the potential of multiple social benefits. Personally, it improves an individual’s capacity to be productive in society, and to access information and services they need. Collectively, it improves the society’s capabilities, workforce capacity, and allows the government to be more efficient. Also, while this challenge is huge, I think there are some low hanging fruit that could foster great process with little investment through volunteer networks. The key though is to develop a national imperative around this to inform citizens that wanting an trying to lean and access technology is part of the national imperative and everyone’s social contract/patriotic duty. That’s the hard part. We need to make geeks cool again.

Michele Costanza

The government should subsidize internet access and devices for households with incomes below $75K. Schools, employers, and libraries should be expected to provide training in the new technology and also increase the literacy rates of individuals if that is an obstacle. The federal government should make website usability a priority. However if the government subsidizes citizens internet access and devices will government agents have a greater right to tell those citizens what content they are allowed to access? Short of increasing household income for all households in the U.S. to at least $75K government subsidies for access seem to be the only solution. What else can the government do to close the Digital Divide?

Sonny Hashmi

Thanks for the excellent comments Michele. I agree that government has limited capability to change this picture. More effective solutions lie in the area of non profit/volunteer networks. So e of this came out in the comments section of my previous post. Federal government at the highest levels can bring attention to this issue as a national priority similar to the way open govenement and green energy are rated as top priorities. The Feds can also make grants available to reputable local comment colleges to provide tech transition derives to undeserved populations (low income, esl, minority etc). As for subsidies, instead of subsidizing equipment and access directly for families, a HUD like model may be better, where subsidies may be available for broadband providers and US computer manufacturers for selling products and services to underserved populations. This would hopefully foster these discount ts and subsidies to flow to the consumer, similar to how builders set aside lower income its in thier properties. This is just a thought, and there may be many reasons why this wouldn’t work. Just rambling…. Thanks for llistening.

Michele Costanza

Why not offer a free or low cost mobile phone with wireless without all the extras? Then create a free wireless service for individuals or households with low income. The subsidies if offered directly to the providers would probably result in over pricing.

Peter Sperry

Whoa! This is not something government should be subsidizing at all, at least not with my tax dollars. Sorry but bridging the digital divide is not even in the same league with providing basic services like housing, running water, police protection, basic education etc. Beyond ensuring all citizens and legal residents have access to the lower tier of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, government has no business taking money from one group of people to subsidize another. Yes, the wealthy have more access to digital devices. They also have more access to travel opportunities, which probably are at least as educational as the net. Should the government subsidize airfare so low income individuals can broaden their horizons?

Christopher Whitaker

Thanks for the info! I’m always on the look-out for information on the digital divide as our department closes more offices and pushes people to do business online.

Sonny Hashmi

Christopher, thanks for the comment. You do a noble job. Aim sure you see many of these issues first hand as unemployed folks look to pick up new skills to compete in the new economy. Would love to hear about some of the success stories and challenges you see every day. Thanks for your service

Michele Costanza

Isn’t there a difference between income and wealth? Also individual or household income should include any public services received including public housing, public education, Medicare, Medicaid, free lunches, etc. This way those individuals or households will have a better picture of their real income.

Sonny Hashmi

Heather, Thanks for your comment. I agree the Google move is very encouraging and sets the stage for the private sector to lend a hand. You and I need to talk about your plans and interests. I’ll be glad to assist in any way I can.

Henry Brown

Interesting discussion going on in Italy on a way to address the digital divide:

From one of the Gartner Blogs:

Campaign to Integrate the Right to Internet into the Constitution Is Laughable

This week I have come across another episode that really sets my country (Italy) apart from all logical thought processes. A group of otherwise respectable people, including the former privacy commissioner, are advocating the need to introduce the right to internet access into the Italian constitution.