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Broadband Gap Between Blacks, Whites Narrows, Study Finds

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg
Julius Genachowski, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

May 2 (Bloomberg) -- The gap between black and white households with high-speed Internet access narrowed by almost half from 2009 to 2010, a National Urban League Policy Institute study found.

Fifty-six percent of black U.S. households and 67 percent of those of whites had broadband availability two years ago, the results showed. That compares with 46 percent for black households and 65 percent for white households in 2009.

The Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Julius Genachowski has tried to expand access to high-speed Internet service. The administration of President Barack Obama’s goal is making broadband available to 98 percent of Americans to accelerate economic growth and job creation.

The narrowed gap “is an achievement,” said Madura Wijewardena, the Urban League’s director of research and policy and a study co-author. “The question is now that they’re on the on-ramp, do they take the next step?”

The results were tempered because increased access to a broadband connection in black households may come from expanded use of handheld wireless devices including smartphones, researchers said. Those devices may be harder to use than personal computers for economic improvement tasks like completing job applications and studying.

“According to the report, 77 percent of African-Americans have used broadband to search for jobs,” Genachowski said at an event with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the Urban League in Washington. “Without digital literacy and digital access, finding and landing a job in this country is virtually impossible” because so much of the hiring process has moved online.

Wireless Devices

Companies have supported the initiative to expand access to broadband. Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. are among providers pledging to supply inexpensive Internet service for poor families with school-age children, and about 5.5 million homes may be eligible to participate starting in the next school year. Time Warner Cable funded the Urban League study.

Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company, said in August it would offer service at $9.95 monthly to poor students and families. The programs, separate efforts from the study released today, are to encompass cable providers that offer broadband service to 86 percent of U.S. households.

While the study showed the gap is narrowing, “it is still unacceptably high,” said David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, in a statement.

Job-Training Programs

The study’s findings “can help guide the entire broadband ecosystem in our effort to connect more Americans to the powerful economic, social and educational benefits that broadband offers,” Michael Powell, president and chief executive officer of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said in a statement.

The study didn’t quantify the broadband devices black consumers are using. Black and Hispanic consumers adopt wireless phones and other handheld devices at proportionately higher rates than whites, Wijewardena said.

It recommends creating job-training programs in broadband businesses, more support for black students to improve college graduation rates and introducing concepts related to using broadband technology earlier in education curricula.

High-speed Internet, or broadband, access remains a concern for the most poorly educated black Americans, the report found.

For blacks without a high school diploma and annual household income under $20,000, 38 percent had broadband access, compared with 51 percent of whites with the same profile.

The Urban League study analyzed data from the Pew Research Center, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Census Bureau.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Zajac in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at

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