4:59am

Tue January 7, 2014
Business

Class Trumps Race When It Comes To Internet Access

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 6:56 am

A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that age and income play a larger role than race when it comes to high-speed Internet access. Lower-income African-Americans often buy smartphones to compensate for not having a broadband connection at home. Smartphones, however, may not be enough.

Black Americans who are young and college graduates are on the same footing as their white counterparts when it comes to getting online or using a smartphone. But Aaron Smith, a Pew researcher, says using a mobile device as a primary means of accessing the Internet has drawbacks. There's a lot you can't do on a smartphone.

"For instance," Smith says, "distance learning or filling out job applications. Those may be much more difficult on a smartphone than on a more traditional device."

Smith says that's a growing problem in a world where an Internet connection is key for everything from accessing education to getting government services.

"So to the extent that this particular group that has a very strong need for some of those services is much less likely to be online, I think that that's a very relevant finding for policymakers, nonprofits and other people who are seeking to serve that community," Smith says.

According to Smith, the biggest takeaway from the study is that class trumps race when it comes to Internet access.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's largely been known that race plays a role in who has access to the Internet. A new study suggests income and age might play even bigger roles. Among lower-income African-Americans, smartphones are often a way to make up for not having a broadband connection at home.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports that that might not be enough.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: African-Americans who are young and college-educated are on the same footing as whites when it comes to getting online: 86 percent of 18-29-year-olds have broadband at home. African-Americans are using smartphones at the same rate as whites - 56 percent - regardless of income.

But Aaron Smith, who did the study for the Pew Research Center, says using a mobile device as a primary means of accessing the Internet has drawbacks. There's a lot you can't do on a smartphone.

AARON SMITH: For instance, you know, distance learning or filling out job applications. Those may be much more difficult to do on a smartphone than on a more traditional device.

SYDELL: But according to Smith, on the lower end of the economic spectrum, blacks trail whites when it comes to Internet access by about seven percentage points. Smith says that's a growing problem in a world in where an Internet connection is key for everything, from accessing education to getting government services.

SMITH: So, to the extent that this particular group that has a very strong need for some of those services is much less likely to be online, I think that's a very relevant finding for, you know, policymakers, nonprofits and other people who are seeking to serve that community.

SYDELL: Ultimately, Smith says the biggest takeaway for him from the study is that class trumps race when it comes to Internet access.

Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.