Several studies have shown that Black, Hispanic and rural Americans are less likely to have broadband Internet connectivity at home than their white, Asian and urban counterparts.  Some researchers have speculated that these differences were attributable, in large part, to differences in income and education levels, as studies also have shown that broadband usage tends to rise with income and education.

But a new report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, released today,  found that broadband usage by African-Americans was about 10% less than for whites even after factoring out the impact of income, education and other factors such as household size, foreign-born status, disability status and state of residence. After controlling for those factors, researchers also found that Hispanics were 14% less likely than whites and that rural residents were 7% less likely than urban residents to use broadband.

On a conference call with reporters this morning, U.S. Commerce Under-Secretary Rebecca Blank speculated that this situation could be the result of what she called “network aspects,” which she defined as “being part of networks of people who are also using the Internet.”

If a person’s friends and relatives are using the Internet, that person may be more likely to also use it, Blank said. If a person belongs to a group that tends not to use the Internet, it could decrease the likelihood of that person using the Internet, even if one might otherwise expect the person to be an Internet user, she said.

Lawrence E. Strickling, NTIA assistant secretary for communications and information, used the conference call as a platform for highlighting broadband stimulus awards made by the NTIA with the goal of increasing broadband adoption among groups that tend to lag behind the U.S. average in broadband usage. The research, he said, underscores the notion that there are several different reasons people do not adopt broadband.

There is “no one-size-fits-all solution,” he said. “We must have very targeted programs for specific populations.” Pointing to a project in Chicago’s largely Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood, Strickling noted that the project will involve “making sure to have materials in the language of the people who live there and developing content more pertinent for the population,” including a Pilsen portal.

Strickling also noted that the NTIA would not be able to address broadband adoption issues on its own. Today’s report, he said, should provide “good food for thought for policymakers, public interest groups and educators.”

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