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NTIA Finds Digital Divide Widening

July 23, 1999

While more people are connected to the nation's information infrastructure, the "Digital Divide" between those Americans with the information tools to participate in the New Economy and those without is actually widening, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide is the third study NTIA has prepared examining Americans' access to telephones, computers, and the Internet. The report provides more than 100 charts and tables outlining the state of the problem across several measures and presents trends over the period 1984-1998.

NTIA's new study finds minorities, low-income persons, the less educated, and children of single-parent households, particularly those in rural areas and central cities, are less likely to have computer and Internet access. At the end of 1998, 40 percent of American households owned computers, and one-quarter of all households had Internet access.

Some of the evidence provided in the report for the growing disparities includes:

  • Households with incomes of $75,000 and higher are more than 20 times more likely to have access to the Internet than those at the lowest income levels, and more than nine times as likely to have a computer at home.
  • Whites are more likely to have access to the Internet from home than Blacks or Hispanics have from any location [emphasis original].
  • Black and Hispanic households are approximately one-third as likely to have home Internet access as households of Asian/Pacific Islander descent, and roughly two-fifths as likely as White households.
  • Regardless of income level, Americans living in rural areas are lagging in Internet access. Indeed, at the lowest income levels, those in urban areas are more than twice as likely to have Internet access than those earning the same income in rural areas.
  • The disparities based on education and income level have also increased in the last year alone. Between 1997 and 1998, the divide between those at the highest and lowest education levels increased 25 percent, and the divide between those at the highest and lowest income levels grew 29 percent.

NTIA's first report, released in 1995, was integral in framing the "Digital Divide" issue and in securing substantial increases for federal programs such as NTIA's Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP), the USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants & Loans Program, and the Department of Education's Community Technology Centers Program, among others.

Along with the growth of federal programs, companies, foundations, and associations have begun to invest or donate funds to support local, state, and regional efforts to address the Digital Divide. With the release of the report last week, President Clinton announced $8 million in donations from several companies were being made to support 10 information technology academies in distressed communities.

Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide can be downloaded from the NTIA website: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/