Wed, 10/05/2005 - 8:00pm

Newsday (New York)

October 6, 2005 Thursday



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A new divide has developed between those who have high-speed connections to the Internet and those stuck with slow dial-up access, a report released yesterday said.

Elderly, less educated and low-income users are less likely to enjoy high-speed Internet access than younger, college-educated, upper-income users, according to the report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which researches the impact of the Internet.

The report said that 53 percent of home Internet users have residential high-speed connections, up from 21 percent in 2002, but that some have been left in the digital dust. "The groups who were initially most likely to lag in adopting the Internet now lag in access speed," the report said.

Education was the most important factor in determining whether someone would have high-speed access, said Susannah Fox, associate director of Pew Internet and author of the report.

Of those with high-speed home Internet access, 62 percent have college degrees and 44 percent have high-school diplomas, the report said.

In another study, Nielsen-NetRatings shows a large gap in access by age, income and education. The market research company found that 70 percent of Internet users, ages 2 to 11 years, have broadband access compared to 44 percent of Internet users 65 and older.

Kristin Fabos, executive director of the nonprofit SeniorNet, said the broadband breach has diminished in the last 18 months as prices have fallen for high-speed access and as seniors have become more advanced Internet users.

While the digital divide exists for access to computers, Internet access and broadband, the ramifications aren't as serious as some experts and politicians have portrayed it, said David Attewell, a professor of sociology who has studied the disparity at the graduate center of the City University of New York.

Having a computer, Internet access or broadband access "makes a modest difference, about the equivalent of taking your child to the public library on a regular basis," he said. "It's a form of enrichment, but it's not a silver bullet or a blockbuster."

Although the Pew survey didn't break down Internet access speeds by race, it noted that blacks are less likely to be online than whites - 57 percent versus 70 percent.

Ricky Clemons, vice president of communications for the National Urban League, said his organization is more concerned about computer ownership than high-speed access. "The issue for us is just bridging the digital divide, and that starts with getting computers in the home and using the computer to learn," he said.

There are still tens of millions of Americans who have never gone online. The Pew study found that 22 percent of Americans have never used the Internet or e-mail, about the same percentage as in 2002.

"There are still people who are completely in the dark," Fox said. "They have never used the Internet. They don't live with anyone who uses the Internet. They probably don't know many people who use the Internet. At the other extreme are these highly wired broadband users. ... In between are those on dial-up."

Pew found reasons for avoiding the Internet include: "Someone could get access to my personal information," "I have the TV and the newspaper and I'm an avid reader," "I have small children and don't want them on there," and "I don't like it. I think it's the devil's work."

The Pew telephone survey of 2,001 adults in the continental U.S. was conducted in May and June. Overall the study had a 2.3 percent margin of error.


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