Latino Broadband Demand and the Digital Divide
In HTTP’s most recent blog, we wrote about the need to ensure that policy-makers support broadband deployment as part of a larger economic stimulus and recovery package. We noted that incentives for corporate investment in broadband deployment would be an indispensable part of any effective plan to stimulate economic growth. Taking broadband to communities that are currently not served would go a long way in bridging the distance between those who have and those who do not have access to high-speed Internet service.
Unfortunately, expanding access to high-speed Internet connections does not mean that all households will adopt the technology. Currently, there are many low-to-moderate income households that have access to high-speed connections, but choose not to connect. As recently reported by the organization Free Press, only 35% of households with annual incomes below $50,000 have broadband service.
High-speed Internet access is essential to modern life. This is a fact that is taken for granted in communities where home Internet use is nearly universal. Internet use has become part of the mainstream culture, and impacts the way we learn, communicate and conduct business. Lack of service to certain geographic regions in the U.S does not entirely explain why some populations lag behind others in adopting broadband. In many Latino and urban communities, broadband is available, but it is still not adopted at rates comparable to other areas.
Although affordability is the most obvious barrier to broadband adoption, there are other reasons why households choose not to connect to broadband service. Many Latinos cannot afford computers despite falling prices. Segments of the population, particularly older Latinos, have not been exposed to the usefulness of computers and the Internet. Parents may feel that their children’s Internet access at school and in public libraries is enough to help them stay at the same levels as their peers.
The present economic turmoil is affecting everyone, but the impact on minority and low-income communities is more severe. Because many Latino and low-income families are now focusing on just getting by, there is a very real danger that they will fall further behind mainstream populations in home computer use and Internet access – further widening the Digital Divide.
Broadband facilitates access to the very services and programs that can help our communities advance socially, economically and politically. Therefore community organizations, government, and the private sector should engage in stronger collaborative efforts to ensure that under-served communities will experience increases in Internet access and use. This is especially important because the Internet can help connect families to job opportunities and information about programs and services that may be essential during difficult economic circumstances.
Organizations such as One Economy have recognized the critical importance of bringing high-speed Internet connections into low-income, urban households. Business Week highlighted One Economy’s work in an article, “Bringing Broadband to the Urban Poor”, on December 31. Their programs, which facilitate Internet service through funding mechanisms similar to those used in nonprofit housing development, are based on the belief that home Internet access is an essential utility.
Latino organizations should also focus on how ‘demand’impacts the Digital Divide. We must raise awareness about the benefits of home computing and develop culturally-attuned programs to de-mystify the Internet, address concerns about privacy and safety, and make computing less intimidating. These efforts must encompass a variety of approaches including educating government, industry, and other charitable organizations serving the Latino community about specific barriers to Internet use among Latinos.
A truly comprehensive effort to establish universal broadband access must address both supply (deployment) and education to foster broadband connections. In this challenging economic climate, in which our community is being hardest hit, we cannot afford to let Latinos fall further behind in adoption of high-speed Internet service.
Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership blog — January 9, 2009