Looking at the under-connected

A new study reports that we need to look at more than just the question of having internet access; we need to look at how people are connected.

The US study found that many low- and moderate- income families rely on mobile-only access (23%) and more than half (52%) of those low- and moderate- income families with home Internet access say it is too slow. A quarter (26%) say too many people share the same computer, and one fifth (20%) say their Internet was cut off in the last year due to lack of payment.

The study, “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Low-Income Families” was released by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an independent research and innovation lab that focuses on the challenges of educating children in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Study co-author Vikki Katz, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers University, said “It’s no longer a simple question of whether or not families are connected to the Internet, but rather how they are connected, and the implications of being under-connected for children’s access to educational opportunities and parents’ ability to apply for jobs or resources.”

The study‘s key findings:

  1. Most low- and moderate-income families have some form of Internet connection, but many are under-connected, with mobile-only access and inconsistent connectivity.
  2. Families headed by Hispanic immigrants are less connected than other low- and moderate-income families.
  3. The main reason some families do not have home computers or Internet access is because they cannot afford it, but discounted Internet programs are reaching very few.
  4. Low- and moderate-income parents use the Internet for a broad range of purposes, but mobile-only families are less likely to do certain online activities.
  5. Children from low- and moderate-income families use computers and the Internet for a variety of educational activities, but those without home access are less likely to go online to pursue their interests.
  6. Parents feel largely positive about the Internet and digital technology, but many also have concerns.
  7. Children and parents frequently learn with, and about, technology together, especially in families with the lowest incomes and where parents have less education.

As discussions continue on how how to improve broadband adoption (leading up to the CRTC’s review of basic telecom services), this report contributes another perspective. For example, some have suggested that many households that don’t have a traditional computer with internet connection configuration may be better served with mobile devices. This study found that mobile only households are 30 percentage points less likely to shop online (36% vs. 66% of those with home access), 25 percentage points less likely to use online banking or bill-paying (49% vs. 74%), 14 percentage points less likely to apply for jobs or services online (42% vs. 56%), and 12 percentage points less likely to get news or follow local events online (70% vs. 82%).

It isn’t just a matter of getting everyone on-line by connecting the “un-connected”; we need to look at the “under connected” as well.

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