Inequality In The Digital World

Imagine a world without a high-speed internet connection.

No WebMD for figuring out the source of your back pain, no Monster for uploading your resume to find a new job, no New York Times for finding out information on presidential candidates.

Would you be disadvantaged? Most would say so.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, approximately two-thirds (69%) of Americans view not having a home high-speed internet connection as a major barrier to finding a job, getting health information, or accessing other key information.

Millions of Americans (around 36% of U.S. households) have no internet access at home. A majority of them are racial/ethnic minorities or live in low-income households. Pew finds 22% of blacks and 19% of Hispanics do not use the internet in the U.S., compared to 15% of whites and 3% of Asian-Americans.

Why is there such a digital divide in the U.S.?

Although age, educational levels and commute patterns may play some role in internet adoption, income has the biggest impact. 33% of non-internet adopters say that the high cost of internet connections are the major reason they lack the internet at home. 26% of households earning under $30,000 annually had no internet connection, compared to 3% of households earning $75,000 or more annually.

In places outside the U.S., the internet is more affordable. According to the Open Technology Institute’s “The Cost of Connectivity 2014” report, “the quality, price, and deployment of broadband in the U.S. is worse than that of the rest of the world.” The report found U.S. customers pay more money for slower internet access than their peers in Asia and Europe do for comparable broadband internet service. And the average cost of plans in nearly every speed tier in the study is higher in the U.S. than in Europe.

In order to address internet inequality in NYC – where 26% (813,000) of NYC households lack broadband internet at home in 2014, the city government has launched an initiative – LinkNYC, which transforms NYC’s payphone infrastructure into the world’s largest public WiFi network.

LinkNYC is a promising sign; it shows local government is starting to address internet inequality, using of advanced technology. We can expect LinkNYC to increase the availability of internet access to New Yorkers, especially for those in low income groups. It is a positive step forward in a city where everyone needs the internet for work, health, and civic engagement.