Survey findings by the Washington, D.C. –based Public Media Corps reveal that when it comes to accessing the Internet to secure products and services as well as for use in honing skills, Blacks and Latinos in the District tend to be at a disadvantage. As a result, the digital divide widens, leading some to ponder if the lack of broadband services in underserved households will become the next civil rights issue.
“Oh, absolutely, because so much of our society is accessed online now,” said Hilary Shelton, Washington Bureau NAACP director of advocacy. “So for to be equality, people have to have equal access to the information.”
According to Shelton, homes with Internet accessibility can save money by having an e-mail address. Residents can also use the Web for everything from redeeming coupons to obtaining a job, he said. “Therefore, people who are locked out of the Internet are locked out of a lot of opportunities in our society.”
PMC Director Kay Shaw said a phone symposium held last week that focused on the effect of minority communities being left out of the loop, hinged on the survey results.
“Our consulting firm is continuing to dig down to the next level of the survey to pull out other findings which will be distributed over the next two weeks,” she said.
But Shaw said her organization was not surprised to find that African Americans and Latinos were much less likely to have Internet service in their homes than the White respondents, most of whom lived in Ward 1.
“However, what we were very interested in finding was that Blacks and Hispanics are increasingly connecting to the Internet through their mobile phones,” she continued, “and that they’re more likely to connect to the Internet for checking e-mails as opposed to catching up on the latest news events.” Shaw said that overall, using their mobile phone to connect to the Internet is good if people can’t afford home-based access.
During an interview early last month with Politic365.com, the Rev. Jesse Jackson voiced his concern that people of color – especially Blacks – are plagued not only by years of racism, but by lack of access to broadband and technology. “We need to frame the issue of technology within emergency dimensions,” said Jackson, who has been on an aggressive campaign for universal broadband access and technological literacy. “Access to basics like telephone, water, gas – these are basic mandates. Given how much of our information and resources are online, it’s a life and death issue for these communities.”
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, this year just 66 percent of adults are using broadband at home. Pew surveys have also shown that most people who don’t have Internet service at home just aren’t interested in it – particularly if they’re over the age of 64.
On the other hand, the Center reported that minority households tend not to have the Internet because it’s too expensive or not available.