Many low-, moderate-income families ‘under-connected’ to Internet – USA TODAY
Remember the âdigital divideâ? Well, forget it.
These days, the key divide isnât between the digital âhavesâ and âhave nots.â Itâs between the fully-connected â peopleÂ who enjoy multi-device home broadband and wifi âÂ and the not-quite-fully-connected, who donât.
New research shows that basic Internet access is nearly universal, even among low- and moderate-income U.S. families: an estimated 94% of these families have some kind of Internet access. Even among the poor, it stands at 91%.
But researchers now sayÂ many low-income families are âunder-connected,â in many cases getting by with only a single Internet-connected computer or, quite often, with mobile-only Internet access through a smartphone or two.
The gap, researchers say, can not only hurt kidsâ ability to be successful in school. It can also hurt adultsâ ability to use the Internet to find a job, get medical information or apply for an affordable home loan â âthe kinds of things that help families get by and the kinds of things that help families get ahead,â said Vikki Katz, a co-author of the study.
The findings are out today from the New York-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, the creators of Sesame Street.
âWe shouldnâtâ be celebrating the conquering of the digital divide because of mobile,â said Katz, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers University.
The problem, the researchers say, isnât just that many low- and moderate-income families rely on limited, mobile-only Internet access. Itâs that many also experience poor service or interruptions: about half say their Internet access is too slow, and one quarter say too many people share the same computer.
For years, said Victoria Rideout, Katzâs co-author, advocates have held out great hope that mobile devices would bridge the “digital divide.” And in some sense, she said, they have. âItâs just a little bit rickety of a bridge.â
She added, âWhat weâve learned is that whether or not a family has Internet access is no longer a simple black-white, yes-no type of a question, because all Internet access is not created equal.â
Unlike with previous surveys, in which interest in Internet access varied generationally, she said the new survey shows that familiesÂ âtotally understand the importance of the Internet.â Only about 4% said Internet access is ânot important.âÂ In most cases, finances are âwhatâs keeping them from being as connected as they want to be,â Rideout said.
The report is based on a nationally-representative phone survey, conducted April 16 through June 29, 2015, of 1,191 low and moderate-income parents of children ages 6 to 13.
Katz said many free and low-cost connectivity programs haven’t bridged the under-connection divide. They may sound great on paper, but many are problematic in real life â often they offer slow Internet access, âan Ethernet cord to one device,â and no simple way to add wifi service, she said.
So even families who are interested in these programs decide that a free or low-cost connection simply doesnât meet their needs.
She and Rideout said they hope the new findings will lead Internet providers to reassess these programs based on the realities families face.
âI think we can do better than this,â Katz said.
The report is available at: www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/