A new study by the Pew Research Center found that that Blacks and Latinos are among the biggest users of mobile web technology, and that low-income communities are among its fastest adopters. It’s nothing we haven’t already heard, of course.
But what makes this week’s news especially relevant is that it comes on the heels of heightened debates in the FCC and Congress and between telecom companies and activists around whether and how to regulate web service providers. People of color have been caught in the middle of that debate, as telecom argues that more regulation will force them to raise costs. The FCC has identified cost as the primary barrier to getting more people of color access to high speed service. Depending on your perspective, the rapidly growing number of mobile web users either signals that people of color are finding their way around the broadband divide or proves just how wide it is.
“The mobile population is becoming more diverse over time and more people are relying on their cellphones as their primary form of wireless connectivity,” Aaron Smith, author of the Pew report, told the Washington Post.
But advocates warn the spike of mobile web users of color is a far cry from bridging the digital divide. Wireless technologies can only do so much, they say, and broadband Internet home connections remain too costly and inaccessible for many communities of color. A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report released last spring found that while 92 percent of Blacks used the Internet to look for work, they usually had to go to libraries, schools, and community centers to get access.
The FCC’s ambitious plan to expand broadband to low-income urban and rural communities have suffered significant setbacks already. For starters, there’s the tricky question of the FCC’s authority and strong opposition from telecom companies.