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The New Digital Divide

Carl Weinschenk

One of the overriding questions driving the ongoing battle over net neutrality and the general direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is how to bridge the digital divide. That term, it should be pointed out, can refer to many disparities in access to telecommunications: between urban and suburban groups, age groups, groups that have attained different levels of education and others.

Things seem to be pointing toward more access. Last week, Common Sense Media released the third version of its tracking initiative. It found that far more children from zero to eight years of age own their own tablets. Usage is skyrocketing. That, of course, isn’t necessarily good news. It does speak to increased access, however.

Broader findings are that access to broadband has increased since 2011. The gap between the percentage of higher and lower income families with access has shrunk from 50 percent to 22 percent during the six years. Other findings highlighted in the press release suggest a reduced access gap between lower and higher income families.

Farms, another front in the battle for digital access, are more connected as well. Agriculture.com cites a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey that found that 71 percent of farms are connected, which is very close to the national average. “It’s a big step up from 2009, when fewer than 60% of farms had a connection,” the story said.


In March, Pew Research said that broadband and smartphone adoption have grown for all Americans. The analysts stopped far short of saying that the digital divide has been conquered, however:

But even as many aspects of the digital divide have narrowed over time, the digital lives of lower- and higher-income Americans remain markedly different.

California doesn’t think the digital divide has been eliminated either. On October 15, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1665 into law, according to the Sun Bonanza. The bill, known as “Internet for All,” allocates $330 million for broadband expansion into rural areas.

The sense is that the entire digital divide debate is becoming more nuanced. It is likely that a greater percentage of the population has access to broadband tools than a decade ago. That’s made clear simply by the evolution of wireless carriers’ coverage footprints. The new questions likely will focus on the quality of that broadband, prices, the level of competition in these areas, and other elements that are more subtle than simply whether there is broadband or not.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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