Data shows gap in US broadband usage across socio-economic lines

Despite a massive increase in broadband usage in the US between 2001 and 2009, gaps in the usage of residential broadband have emerged along socio-economic lines.

America has seen the number of subscriptions to high speed internet rise to 63.5 percent in 2009, nearly seven times the amount of subscribers in 2001, according to analysis of Census data released by the US Commerce Department.  While this increase may on the face of it sound like a good example of the proliferation of internet access as a human right, it appears that access is also determined by ethnicity.

According to the Associated Press non-Hispanic white Americans and Asian-Americans are still more likely to go online with a high speed connection, in comparison with Hispanics and African-Americans.

The report by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, surveying 54,000 households, highlights the disparity that Congress and the Federal Communications Commission seek to eradicate by providing high speed internet access to all.

There are a number of ways in which the US authorities seek to redress the balance, including tapping the federal program that subsidizes telephone service for poor and rural Americans to pay for broadband, and unleashing more airwaves for wireless connections.

According to Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, this is a significant problem saying that the data shows that “there is no single solution” to provide fair access.   

Major findings included:

– 94.1 percent of households with income exceeding $100,000 subscribed to broadband in 2009, compared with 35.8 per cent of households with income of less than $25,000.

 – 84.5 percent of households with at least one college degree subscribed to broadband last year, compared with 28.8 per cent of households without a high school degree.

 – 77.3 percent of Asian-American households and 68 per cent of non-Hispanic white households subscribed to broadband last year, compared with 49.4 per cent of African-American households and 47.9 per cent of Hispanic households.

 – 65.9 percent of urban households subscribed to broadband in 2009, compared with 51 per cent of rural households.

With regards to the wider theme of internet usage as a basic human right, the analysis of the US data shows the disparities along socio-economic and ethnicity lines that form an interesting microcosm of the problem on a world scale. 

For example across the globe it is quite clear, according to figures from internetworldstats, that the results are very similar on a larger scale with richer, developed Western countries leading the way with internet usage (note- figures indicate internet usage in general rather than broadband specifically).

America and Europe have comparatively very high proportions of internet connectivity with 77.4 percent and 58.4 percent respectively.  Australia also has a high proportion with 61.3 percent of its population connected to the internet.

This is in comparison to Africa which has only 10.9 percent of its population online, while Latin America and the Caribbean has 34.5 percent.  Indeed some areas such as parts of Africa are subject to what has been termed ‘digital lag’ meaning that they are theoretically 19 years behind in terms of digital development, with experts estimating that it will be 2019 before many areas reach the 2002 developed nation level.

A UN report in September discussed the implicit link between internet connectivity and poverty, showing the importance with which connectivity across the board should apply both domestically and internationally.