Historically, it has been harder for African-Americans to access the Internet. Long-standing evidence shows they have fewer computers with in-home Internet access than whites.
Wireless technology is playing a key role in changing this, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. As it turns out, African-Americans still have lower rates of in-home Internet access. However, but they are adopting wireless Internet en masse thanks to access provided by their mobile phones and handheld devices.
“A dozen years ago, Internet access was almost entirely wired. They logged on with a heavy device and it was mainly something done by white Americans, more likely to be male,” says John Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and principal author of the report.
“Wireless is an important pathway for Americans, particularly African-Americans. [Many] feel that by having a mobile device with multiple applications – including Internet access – they can do without the additional expense of having broadband access at home,” he says.
Almost 50 percent of all African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics use mobile devices to send e-mail and surf the Web. In contrast, white Americans remain tethered to their laptops and home computers. Just 28 percent reported ever going online with a mobile device.
That trend became even more pronounced when comparing Internet access trends between white Americans and African-Americans without home broadband access. Among white Americans without home broadband, just 6 percent have accessed the Internet on a handheld device. Among African Americans without home broadband, that number quadruples to 25 percent.
As the survey report puts it, “white Americans and African Americans have somewhat different outlooks on the meaning of online access… To an extent notably greater than that for whites, wireless access for African Americans serves as a substitute for a missing on ramp to the Internet – the home broadband connection.”