BY: AYA TSINTZIRAS
In the age of social media, it seems like we spend a significant portion of our lives online. But it turns out that isn’t true of everyone: new data has shown that in some cities in the U.S., 40 percent of Americans don’t have Internet access.
Despite the obvious gap between the Global North and the Global South in regards to Internet access, this study shows that the digital divide is still a domestic issue.
Bill Calahan, the director of advocacy group Connect Your Community 2.0, has analyzed the recently released census data from the 2013 American Community Survey to find that going online is not as widespread as commonly believed. Two highlights of this survey: it’s the first that has information on Internet access, and it focuses on urban areas. Calahan found that 40.2 percent of households in the large city of Laredo, Texas cannot access the Internet, with Detroit at 39.9 percent, and Miami not far behind at 36.8 percent.
A PEW survey from April and May 2013 looked at the causation behind the lack of Internet use, with 21 percent of respondents answering “just not interested,” 13 percent answering “no computer” and 10 percent saying it was “difficult/frustrating.” Another 8 percent cited their lack of computer skills.
The digital divide – defined as an unequal distribution of either access or having knowledge about technologies used to communicate – is related to wealth and class issues, and of course, isn’t limited to the States.
In their 2013 data, Statistics Canada found that while 83 percent of Canadians go online, only a quarter of those with less household income use the Internet. In Canada, the rising cost of wireless is the main reason behind the digital divide. Those with higher incomes go online the most, and those with lower incomes the least, usually visiting libraries where the Internet is free and simple to access. An interesting new initiative is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland: Virgin Media will bring broadband service to 5,000 people who have never had Internet access before, and will have 50 people offering assistance and training.
What is significant about this census data is that it’s not just American suburbs and small towns that have no Internet access, but heavily populated cities as well. Thirty one million households in the U.S. do not have a broadband subscription for either their phones or home use.
In 2010, President Obama said he would end this divide by 2020. This new data makes substantiating his claim seem like a pretty lofty task.