Finding a digital poverty line
According to a new study by American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, there is a new (or at least under-thought) difference between the rich and the poor in the United States.
Having analyzed data from all fifty states and D.C., the group shows that areas with relatively low household incomes have low broadband subscription percentages, too. No duh, you say? Well, read on to the implications:
Access to broadband has become critical for anyone to keep up in American society. Finding and applying for jobs often takes place entirely online. Students receive assignments via email. Basic government services are routinely offered online.
The lack of a broadband connection puts people at a profound disadvantage.
According to the article, which drew information from data collected circa 2008-2010, wealthier households subscribe to broadband at a rate of 80% to 100%, while lower income homes are closer to 40% to 60%.
A broadband connection, which clocks in at or above 96 kb/s while downloading, is most widely purchased in the country’s wealthy Northeast (and Hawaii, but they think it may be all the vacation homes), with Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut being the country’s most heavily subscribed metro area.
The states with the lowest subscription rates by household are, from the bottom, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. Of those, Mississippi holds the title of both poorest state and least connected, with a median household income of $36,850 and only 38 broadband subscriptions per 100 households.
By household income, Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia follow directly behind it, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
FJP: Is it just a coincidence? Probably not…
It’s not a rural problem, they say — Alaska’s subscriptions have gone up 15% recently. Montana and South Dakota have also gone up. The West, too, showed rapid growth through 2010. This contrasts with the South, which the report singles out as the least prosperous, least connected region in the country.
Furthermore, when looking Bridgeport, CT, the group found their “poverty divide” looked like a rainbow from the city center to its outer suburbs. Using an interactive map created by the workshop, anyone can see their community’s broadband use, and Bridgeport’s is probably the most damning:
The Bridgeport MSA also ranks No. 1 when it comes to the unequal distribution of wealth, according to a Stanford University study that looked at income segregation in American cities.
That gap is reflected in the broadband map. The urban core of the city suffers from biting poverty and low rates of broadband subscribership, while the outer suburbs show sky-high incomes and correspondingly high rates of broadband subscribership.
The report also confronts why poor areas don’t have fast internet, and the answer is perhaps all too obvious — it’s too expensive.
But there are a few more considerations, too:
There are cultural issues. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to subscribe. Whites subscribe at higher rates than blacks and Hispanics. And senior citizens subscribe at lower rates than young people.
That doesn’t mean the poor or less fortunate don’t find a way online, though. Take the country’s least connected metro area — McAllen, Texas, which is just five miles from Mexico. The report states:
In McAllen, the library is often where people go to connect. “Our computer lab and free Internet services are probably the largest draw into the building, said Jose A. Gamez, director of McAllen’s public libraries. “We’re adding about 50 more computers because of the demand.”
The low home-subscription rate in the city is no mystery. ”Hidalgo County is one of the poorest counties in the country so a lot of people here just can’t afford their own computers or the broadband connection,” he said.
And for the record, Maine fell 2% recently. Wonder why?