If you had to guess how many people were disconnected from the Internet, you would probably think it’s fewer than five percent. But according to the New York Times, the figure is staggering: around 20 percent of Americans aren’t connected to the Internet and don’t access it at work, home, school or even on a mobile device.
Despite a $7 billion effort from the Obama administration to beef up Internet access in underdeveloped parts of the country, 60 million people are still disconnected, prompting fears that they will be isolated from accessing vital information (like online education) or not even be eligible for jobs.
It’s not that people don’t have access to the Internet (98 percent can access it), it’s simply that they don’t want to.
The trend, dubbed “digital inequality,” occurs when people can’t afford Internet access, are disinterested in figuring it out or lack basic computer skills. More disturbingly, the trend is widening economic and racial disparities as older citizens and people who make less than $50,000 are less likely to use the Internet. Southern states, like Alabama and Arkansas, rank among the lowest in Internet usage.
The Times talked to those offline denizens who said that the Time Warner triple play deal is too expensive or, at this point in their life, it’s just too damn hard to figure out how it all works. For example, 78-year-old Willa Ohnoutka said she uses her telephone to communicate with family and gets her news from the television. “I’m just not comfortable involving myself with that Internet,” she said.
There’s no quick or easy fix for connecting people like Ms. Ohnoutka. Low income deals like Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers a reduced price, has only signed up 220,000 households and government-sponsored computer classes were seen as a “small scale success.”
Those results are leaving some in Obama’s administration reportedly unsatisfied.
“I’ve seen enough to know that we’re making good progress,” said Thomas C. Power, the administration’s deputy chief technology officer for telecommunications. “But I also know we need to make more progress.”