WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press released a comprehensive study examining and exposing links between the digital divide and systemic discrimination in America.
Digital Denied takes a deep and detailed look at the role race plays in determining whether a person has affordable home access to high-speed internet services. The Free Press research finds that communities of color are on the wrong side of the digital divide in ways that income differences alone do not explain.
Systemic racial discrimination has a measurable impact on home-internet adoption because it affects income inequality and also exacerbates other disparities that are barriers to adoption in communities of color. Free Press also finds that, contrary to one conventional narrative, people of color who do not subscribe to internet service actually have a very high demand for it. This means they would benefit greatly from lower prices and more choices for service.
Digital Denied reveals persistent gaps in home-internet adoption between people of different races and ethnicities. “Why do such gaps exist?” asks S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press and author of the report. “There are numerous possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive. The answer is not that people of color simply have a lower overall demand for internet access. Indeed, the data indicate that members of these communities who are on the wrong side of the digital divide have a high demand for internet access, but do not subscribe due largely to cost concerns.”
The data illustrate persistent broadband-adoption and deployment gaps for people of different races and ethnicities, even after one accounts for differences in household income and other factors. In addition to race and ethnicity, factors that are associated with home-internet adoption include educational attainment and use of the internet at work or school.
Digital Denied finds that exposure to the internet at work is strongly associated with home adoption. Yet Hispanic and Black workers are far less likely than Whites to be exposed to the internet on the job — even when they are employed in the same kinds of jobs.