Digital Gap Still Divides Us

Closing the digital divide continues
to be a goal for the cable industry as operators
look to roll out and sign up multicultural subscribers
to their high-speed broadband services.

Federal Communications Commission commissioner Mignon
Clyburn told the more than 500 people who attended
last week’s National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications
Conference in New York that a reported 93 million
Americans — a disproportionate number of
them minorities — still don’t have a broadband
connection in their homes.

While progress has been made over the years,
only 56% of African-American households and
49% of Hispanic households have access to
broadband services, she said.

Clyburn also said millions of minority Americans
who have access to broadband don’t sign up
due to high subscription costs, lack of digital literacy
or a low perceived relevance for broadband

Clyburn applauded cable’s efforts to close the
digital gap through the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association’s Adoption Plus public-private
partnership program, which aims to combine digitalmedia
literacy training with discounted broadband service
and computers.

While broadband penetration is gradually increasing
among multicultural consumers, another digital platform
providing Web access is exploding within the African-American
and Hispanic communities.

Mobile phones offer consumers a cheaper and more flexible
option to wireless computer or laptop hookups in accessing
Web-based news and information, participating in socialnetworking
sites, downloading music or watching video.

About 87% of African-Americans and Hispanics own cell
phones, compared to 80% of non-Hispanic whites, according
to a July survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
More than half of all Hispanic cell phone owners use their
phones to access the Internet, while more than one-third of Latinos
watch video programming on their BlackBerrys, Droids
and Sidekicks.

Nearly 50% of African-American cell-phone users access
news, sports, entertainment news and other information
over the Internet via their mobile phones, while
more than one third use their phones to access
social-networking sites and over 76% use such
phones to take photos.

Mobile phone usage is even more prevalent
among young adults.

A staggering nine out of 10 18-to-29-year-olds
have a cell phone, while nearly 65% have accessed
the Web with their mobile device and 40% of young
consumers have watched a video on their phone, according
to the Pew research.

In an effort to serve the growing multicultural
mobile Web audience, cable networks like BET
and Univision are offering content targeted to
the mobile platform, and consumers are responding.

This past June, for example, the Univision Fútbol App,
launched in concert with the Spanish-language network’s 2010
FIFA World Cup coverage, notched more than 450,000 downloads.

Clyburn said access to the Internet “is no longer a luxury,
it is a necessity” for all Americans, and that’s true for minorities
in particular.

With the cable industry’s efforts to wire all homes with
broadband services — and with the rapid growth of Internet
use on mobile phones — maybe the digital divide will close
sooner rather than later.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.