The digital divide and the color line

By Michelle Chen Apr 08, 2009

If you’re reading this right now, you may have no idea how lucky you are. Across the country, many urban families are struggling to explore job opportunities, communicate with loved ones, and attain an education—because they lack access to a high-speed Internet connection. A report by the media advocacy group Free Press details the stories of several families who have severely limited online access. Many of the narratives are typical of under-resourced Black and Latino communities, where logging on may mean trekking through a dangerous neighborhood to the library, or borrowing a neighbors computer because your parents can’t afford a $40 monthly fee for broadband. It’s no secret who’s on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, broadband access is lagging among low-income and Black Americans:

25% of low-income Americans – those whose household incomes are $20,000 annually or less – reported having broadband at home in April 2008. This compares to the 28% figure reported in March 2007 among those living in households whose annual incomes are $20,000 or less. African Americans showed slow growth as well, with 43% saying they had broadband at home in April 2008 versus 40% who said this in March 2007.

While over half of American adults surveyed by Pew had broadband at home, only about 28 percent of those with less than a high school education are connected. The media reform movement itself has been criticized for failing to reach out to communities of color, though that seems to be changing now that Internet access is becoming increasingly vital for economic advancement. Initiatives in the stimulus package to expand broadband access—plus a tech-savvy White House—indicate that Washington is starting to see Internet access as a basic public resource. For historically marginalized groups, the Digital Age promises new opportunities for civic participation and movement building, but the first move is to get communities up to speed online.