A PERSISTING DIGITAL DIVIDE PUTS MILLIONS OF AMERICANS AT AN ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL DISADVANTAGE
Focus policy on people through education and resources to acquire computer technology, not corporate tax breaks - Consumer Groups Conclude
(Washington, D.C. - October 11, 2000) - While computer ownership and Internet use continue to grow, the "digital divide" that separates those Americans connected to the Internet from those who are not persists and is not likely to disappear any time soon, according to a report released today by the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union. The gap puts millions of Americans at a disadvantage in our increasingly "online" society. The more important the Internet becomes, the more serious the problem will be, unless steps are taken to close the gap.
"By presenting the first direct comparison of a broad range of commercial, informational, educational, civic and political activities of individuals in physical space to those in cyberspace, we have demonstrated a troubling, new source of inequality in our society," Dr. Mark Cooper, CFA's Director of Research and principle author of the report, said.
The report, entitled Disconnected, Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised, is based on a detailed national survey of 1900 respondents and finds that 47% of the respondents do not have access to the Internet at home. The "disconnected" are much more likely to be lower income, older and minority households.
"Once policymakers understand that these vulnerable groups are harmed by their lack of access to technology, they should begin to seek cost effective avenues to address this deprivation," said Gene Kimmelman, Co-Director of CU's Washington Office. "People of every age, income and race are concerned that technological advances are widening the gap between rich and poor and fear that the information revolution will leave many behind."
The report pinpoints the steps to be taken to overcome the digital divide by exploring attitudes toward and experience with information-age technologies. The digital divide is not the result of a failure of those without access to appreciate the importance of technology, the report finds. Approximately 93% of those without access believe that computer skills are vital, 83% believe that understanding technology is critical to success, and 84% believe that children learn more when they have access to technology.
At the same time, those without access have much less confidence in their ability to use these technologies. Only 21% of the "disconnected" consider themselves computer savvy (compared to 57% of the "fully connected"). Half say they do not know what the Internet is or how it could help them, compared to one-eighth of the "fully connected." Two-thirds of the disconnected say the Internet is too expensive.
"The Internet is already an important avenue for participation in society." Cooper said. "As it becomes the main avenue of commerce and communications, people not connected to the Internet could become a new category of the disenfranchised. Public policy to close the digital divide must give people the skills to use technology, the experience to make them comfortable with it, and the resources to bring it into their homes, where they conduct their personal business."
"Bills currently before Congress, like S. 2698 (The Broadband Internet Access Act of 2000), which aim to bridge the digital divide by giving tax breaks to corporations for building infrastructure are misguided," Kimmelman concluded. "We should direct tax dollars or subsidies to the people who cannot afford technology, not to corporations."
The full report is available at:
About the Author:
Consumers Union is a nonprofit membership organization chartered in 1936 under the laws of the State of New York to provide consumers with information, education and counsel about goods, services, health, and personal finance; and to initiate and cooperate with individual and group efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of life for consumers. Consumers Union's income is solely derived from the sale of Consumer Reports, its other publications and from noncommercial contributions, grants and fees. In addition to reports on Consumers Union's own product testing, Consumer Reports, with approximately 4.5 million paid circulation, regularly carries articles on health, product safety, marketplace economics and legislative, judicial and regulatory actions that affect consumer welfare. Consumers Union's publications carry no advertising and receive no commercial support. (Web: http://www.consumersunion.org/)
The Consumer Federation of America is the nation's largest consumer advocacy group, composed of over two hundred and forty state and local affiliates representing consumer, senior, citizen, low-income, labor, farm, public power and cooperative organizations, with more than fifty million individual members. (Web: http://www.consumerfed.org/)