Digital Divide Closing, U.S. Says

Signaling a possible narrowing of the digital divide, more Americans can readily access the Internet than ever before, according to a new report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC).

The report, “Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion,” found that there has been an upsurge in the use of information technologies among minorities, seniors and people living in rural areas. For instance, black households are more than twice as likely to connect to the Web than they were 20 months ago, the report said.

“Although much more remains to be done to bridge the digital divide and create digital opportunity for all Americans, I am especially pleased that many low-income, rural and minority households are beginning to ‘get connected’ at rates faster than the national average,” President Clinton said in a statement on the report’s release.

The report, which is the fourth in a series, was produced by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and its Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA).

‘Vital National Goal’

Stressing the importance of securing full digital inclusion, the report said the Internet has a great impact not only in the technology arena but also in the realm of economic, political and social development.

“This is a vital national goal,” said Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. “More Americans are accessing computers and the Internet, and are doing so at dramatic rates of growth.”

Mineta also added that gaps in Internet and computer usage are more of an exception than the norm.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • The number of households with Internet access rose from 26.2 percent in December 1998 to 41.5 percent in August 2000, representing a 58 percent increase.
  • The portion of those using the Net spiked from 32.7 percent to 44 percent during the same period.
  • An additional 31.9 million American users went online over the past 20 months.

Crumbling Barriers

Income, educational levels, and race remain the strongest indicators of Internet access, said the report. Underscoring this determination, the study found that home Internet penetration among black and Hispanic users lags behind the larger national average.

Additionally, people with disabilities are only half as likely to have Web access as able-bodied people.

“The Internet is no longer a luxury item, but a resource used by many,” the report concluded. “Taken as a whole, the findings show that there has been tremendous progress, but much work remains to be done.”

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