Free Press Study Asserts Systemic Racism at Center of Digital Divide

A new study from Free Press, "Digital Denied," asserts that "communities of color find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide for home-Internet access – both in terms of adoption and deployment – in a manner that income differences alone don’t explain."

For example, among those households with family incomes less than $20,000, 58% of White households have Internet access, while it is only 51% for Hispanics and 50% for Blacks in that same income bracket.

"[E]ven after accounting for such differences in income, age, education and other factors, many racial and ethnic groups continue to lag behind Whites in home-Internet adoption."

The report also asserts that the main culprit in the persistence of a digital divide is wired broadband.

"[T]he relatively higher levels of competition and choice in the mobile market have largely closed such divides in mobile internet and cellphone adoption," the report notes.

By contrast, it says, wired broadband is a duopoly at best.

Saying "public policy intended to address the digital divide has largely failed to close the gap, the report proposed some fixes, including lower prices and "a functioning resale, wholesale market."

The FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler attempted to reregulate prices for business data services, but ran into a new Administration warning them off the proposal before it could be voted.

The report concluded that "contrary to one popular narrative, people of color who do not adopt home internet have a very high demand for it," which means they would "benefit greatly from lower prices and more choices for service."

The report asserts that while "only 18% of non-adopting White households say they would subscribe at a lower price, 33% of non-adopting Hispanic households and 28% of non-adopting Black households say they would."

NCTA: The Internet & Television Association had no comment on the report, but its largest member, Comcast, is adding flexible plans that could help with as-needed access. Last summer, the company announced pay as you go, prepaid TV and Internet plans that have no contract or credit check. It is testing them in Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Florida and Indiana and plans to offer the option everywhere in its footprint.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.