WiFi’s Diversity Dividend

WASHINGTON — There happens to be a diversity dividend to those hundreds of thousands of WiFi hotspots cable operators are creating as their primary mobile broadband play, according to a new study.

A new report from advocacy group WifiForward, which wants the Federal Communications Commission to free up more spectrum for licensed and unlicensed wireless use, said African-Americans and Latinos are the heaviest users of WiFi networks, including as a “pathway” to education and jobs.

Study co-author John Horrigan was with the FCC in 2009 and 2010 and helped develop the broadband adoption and usage portions of the National Broadband Plan, WifiForward pointed out. According to the study, 28% of African-Americans and 20% of Latinos use WiFi for job searching “very often,” compared to only 9% of whites.

In addition, 62% of Latinos and 60% of African-Americans said the Internet has helped with education, compared to 50% of whites.

Minorities also showed higher interest in applications like home health monitoring or controlling energy consumption, with 58% of Latinos and 53% of African-Americans saying they were “very” or “somewhat” interested in controlling home energy use, compared with 51% of whites; and 55% of Latinos and 51% of African Americans saying the same thing about home health and fitness monitoring, compared with 49% of whites.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said there were about 300,000 cable-supplied hotspots nationwide as of December 2014. The NCTA has been pushing the FCC to create more unlicensed spectrum space through the incentive auction, as well as to free up more spectrum in the higher frequency bands where cable already operates.

The so-called Internet of Things is putting a heavy demand on WiFi, the NCTA noted. IoT-powered devices range from a Fitbit for dogs — measuring heart rate and “pawsteps” — to an Internet-connected toothbrush that can analyze dental hygiene and (rat its owner out to his or her own smartphone).

The report is based on a national online survey of 434 white adult Internet users, 411 African-American adult Internet users and 418 Latino adult Internet users. Wifi-Forward is backed by an eclectic group of companies and associations, including Best Buy, Microsoft, the NCTA and the American Library Association.

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.