April 23, 2018

Online Access Still Unequal, Especially Among Youngest

By LJ Staff

"Children, the Digital Divide and Federal Policy," a briefing released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, finds that disparities in access to the Internet continue, even though 96 percent of 8-18 year-old-students report ever having gone online. Interviews were conducted with 23 experts on the digital divide and youth issues. Even though nearly every student has gone online, lower income and minority children are less likely to start using computers early in life. The proportion of children (ages 6 months to 6 years) who have never used a computer varies significantly by income, from 39 percent of children from families with incomes of $75,000 a year or more, to 69 percent of those from families with incomes of less than $20,000 a year. Significant racial differences exist in early computer use as well. Among four to six year-olds, 41 percent of nonwhite children have never used a computer, compared to 24 percent of white children. This is linked to the fact that only 15 percent of those with incomes up to $25,000 have computers in the home.

The briefing recommends increasing federal funding for libraries, so they can stay open more evenings and weekends and provide more online access. Federal funds currently make up only 3 percent of overall library budgets, it notes. It also recommends expanding E-rate telecomm discounts to organizations, such as community technology centers, that can increased Internet access, and expanding the E-rate to cover computers and software, not just connectivity.