Why the Unconnected are Second-Class Digital Citizens

by David Honig on March 6, 2011

It is no secret that the recession has hit our nation hard, particularly in low-income and minority communities. Naturally, many government institutions and private organizations have turned to broadband to help them cut costs by streamlining various processes and keeping productivity levels high. In general, this is a productive use of a transformative technology – and embracing it to improve efficiency is certainly the right thing for these organizations to do. But what about the millions of Americans who lack a home computer and who remain unconnected to broadband? How are they supposed to apply for government benefits online, access Web-based job search sites, and otherwise participate in this digital revolution?

The short answer is that those who remain unconnected are relegated to second-class digital citizenship.

Being offline puts a person at a severe disadvantage. The seemingly endless array of benefits currently offered online is virtually nonexistent to those who have, for whatever reason, elected not to adopt broadband. And as more and more institutions move their service offerings exclusively online, there is a real danger that non-adopters of broadband will be left behind without access to our nation’s most vital information and resources.

What’s most unfortunate about this situation is that a significant number of non-adopters in America happen to be racial minorities. Last November the U.S. Department of Commerce released a study revealing that less than 50 percent of African American households have broadband access in their homes. More recently, the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University published a survey revealing that 57 percent of Hispanics say they don’t feel they have enough understanding about computers and technology to be competitive in the current job market. This echoes data included in the Commerce Department’s study, which reported that the broadband adoption rate among Hispanic households was only slightly higher than the adoption rate for Blacks. These numbers underscore the widening digital divide in this country, where the digital “haves” are first-class digital citizens with a passport to explore all that the Internet has to offer, while the digital “have-nots” are second-class citizens trapped in the analog world.

Closing the broadband technology gap in America is more critical than ever, because broadband is the on-ramp to a growing universe of content and services that have the potential to transform lives. Going online via a broadband connection grants a user access to up-to-the minute news, resources for starting and managing a small business, enhancing educational opportunities, and increasing civic participation. Without access to technology and a reasonable level of digital literacy, a person’s quality of life will ultimately suffer. As such, we cannot let minorities fall into second-class digital citizenship status.

Enhancing the broadband adoption rate across every demographic group must be priority number one for policymakers at every level of government. Without more robust broadband adoption, too many Americans will be stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. Social justice and continued economic prosperity demand a concerted effort to get these non-adopters on a path toward first-class digital citizenship.

  • David Honig is MMTC’s President and Executive Director. He co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. MMTC has represented over 70 minority, civil rights and religious national organizations in selected proceedings before the FCC, and it operates the nation’s only full service, minority owned media and telecom brokerage.

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  • Johson4814

    “The short answer is that those who remain unconnected are relegated to second-class digital citizenship.” — You can say that again!

  • Guest

    I agree and I think it will be very interesting to see whether all of the programs funded under the broadband stimulus are successful in getting more people to adopt affordable broadband.

    To reach non-adopters, there must be a concerted effort by the public, private, and non-profit sectors to educate consumers about broadband capabilities and digital literacy.

  • S. Witter

    The phrase “second-class digital citizens” hits the nail right on the head — it’s true, being offline really does put you at a severe disadvantage.

    Great article, I hope it gets around to policymakers who will actually step up to the plate and take some real steps toward reaching universal broadband in America.

  • John_Q_Public

    Further proof that broadband is critical to success and prosperity in the 21st century. There seems to be a lot of consensus around this point, yet very little action to connect the unconnected. Why the disconnect?

  • Kevin A Nold

    Being a second class citizen was always a terrible thing…. why is it okay for some Americans to have digital second class citizenship.

  • It is possible

    I agree. We are living in a digital age where most services are only offered online. Hence, those unconnected are left behind.

    Yet another reason why everyone needs to be be connected NOW!!!

  • Dr. George Simmons

    This is very true however I feel that those who are impacted the most are not part of the solution of designing and implementing programs for broadband adoption. I believe this is where the stimulus program is falling down. The number of blacks and latinos who participated in the grant wards process were totally locked out from receiving grant money. And, those who did get the grant money are not including blacks and latinos in the development of programs designed to address their needs.

  • Dr. George Simmons

    This is very true however I feel that those who are impacted the most are not part of the solution of designing and implementing programs for broadband adoption. I believe this is where the stimulus program is falling down. The number of blacks and latinos who participated in the grant wards process were totally locked out from receiving grant money. And, those who did get the grant money are not including blacks and latinos in the development of programs designed to address their needs.

  • JCraigDC

    Definitely a case where it takes money to make/keep money. Those without the resources to get online will not experience the benefits of saving time and money that those of us who are connected take for granted.

  • Lu

    L.

    Minorities are somewhat always the last ones to see the benefit of important life changing experiences. This article is correct in pointing out the obvious and explaining why not adopting now is a huge problem. I think it’s because of our mindset, we spend and waste money on frivolous things without really allocating the funds to necessities.

  • Lucylu

    Luce,

    This is the best way to really categorize minorities that refuse to adopt service. If minorities do not see the importance at this time of getting connected, then they will default to being second class citizens. We will continue being the last to take advantage of new opportunities or risks, and the first to suffer for it.

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