Digital Gap Still A Concern


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 access.

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 digital media 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 social networking 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.