WASHINGTON, DC A report released by the Pew Foundation shows that people with high-speed Internet connections tend to be more productive at work and become more involved with their communities; however, the digital divide prevents many Hispanics from experiencing the same benefits of the Internet.
The report was released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project to document the difference between Internet users with traditional dial-up access and those with broadband access (For consumers, broadband is defined as speed of data transmission so that streaming video, music and voice can be accessed at the same time.)
According to the report 24 million Americans, 21 percent of the nation’s Internet users, have high-speed Internet connections at home. Hispanics, who have a lower rate of home Internet access than any other population, have even less access to high-speed connections. This limits the ability of Hispanics to use Internet resources which require the transfer of large amounts of data, such as sharing files, exchanging pictures, downloading music or visiting media intensive web sites.
Households with broadband connections to the Internet get more out of the Internet. “Broadband users drive in both directions on the information superhighway,” said John B. Horrigan, Senior Research Specialist with the Pew Internet Project. For Hispanics with dial-up access, the road is slow and sometimes impassible preventing them from getting critical health information, using educational tools, reaching new consumers for their small businesses, or telecommuting to work.
Policy changes may help close the digital divide.
The U.S. Congress has taken on the issue of broadband access in underserved communities. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001. A similar bill, the Broadband Regulatory Parity Act of 2002 is currently in the Senate. If passed, the bill would create a competitive economic environment by legislation that all providers of high-speed Internet access are subject to the same regulations. Currently, broadband providers, cable companies, telephone and satellite companies are subject to different sets of regulations, a system which providers argue creates disincentives to expand services to new consumers.
According to a 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, White households have access to the Internet at levels more than double those of Hispanics and African Americans. With commerce, education, health, entertainment and communication transactions becoming increasingly reliant on the Internet, high speed access to the Internet will soon be as necessary to households as telephone lines. Legislation and regulatory policies that remove obstacles to broadband deployment will go a long way towards closing the digital divide and increase the opportunities available to minority communities.