No progress made in closing California’s digital divide

by Steve Blum • , , ,

If you’re a Californian who’s college age or even just a twenty-something, or you’re any age at all and you have a college degree, or if you’re making $60,000 or more a year, then it’s almost certain you’re on the Internet. If that’s not you, then not so much.

That’s the conclusion of a Field Poll conducted for the California Emerging Technology Fund that put some harder numbers on the digital divide here. The research, released today, showed that that core demographic groups – young, educated and/or making a reasonable living – are over the 95% mark in terms of Internet adoption. Given that much of the 4% or 5% remainder can be characterised as being in some sort of transition – between jobs, say – there’s not much practical room for improvement there.

But if you’re not among the blessed, it’s a different story. If you’re a Californian who didn’t graduate from high school, then it’s a 50/50 proposition whether you’re on the Internet. Do you speak Spanish and not English? Only a 60% chance. A senior citizen? 1 in 3 chance you’re on the wrong side of digital divide. It’s even worse if you’re not a citizen, or a naturalised citizen, or disabled, or making minimum wage – less than $20,000 a year.

Overall, 86% of Californians over the age of 18 are online, at least to the extent that they “use the Internet at least occasionally”, and 75% have access at home. That’s good news, but only to an extent – the home access number hasn’t changed over the last year, the millions of dollars being spent trying to boost it notwithstanding.

The divide has a technological fault line as well: most Californians who have Internet service at home get it via some kind of fixed connection. But a sizeable minority – 8% – rely just on mobile service. And the demographics of the mobile-only homes look a lot like those with no service at at all. More on that tomorrow.