Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Article #3, A Survey of the "Have Nots" in Rural and Urban America

The US Department of Commerce’s 1995 report presents statistics on who, what, and where the lowest percentage of “telephone penetration”, “internet penetration”, and “modem penetration” exist in the continental United States. Using the Current Population Survey (CPS) designed to determine the demographics of telephone subscribers, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) added questions on computer use and access, and modem ownership and use. While the CPS survey on telephone subscriptions failed to recognize geographical location in their results, the NTIA made sure to tabulate their survey results based, not only on geographical region, but also on income, race, age, and education level.

Information “have nots” were found to be disproportionately high in rural areas and central cities (the largest area or part of a metropolitan area). Generally speaking, the young and the old, minority groups, and those with the lowest income and the least amount of education, were the least connected, but surprisingly, the most likely to use these resources for “economic uplift and empowerment.”

The report concludes with some solutions to these discrepancies. The authors acknowledge that insufficient statistical data makes it difficult to know/understand why the “have nots” exist. For example, it is not clear, based on the statistics obtained by the CPS and NTIA, whether the low-income disadvantaged are also the minority, the less educated, or the young and old populations suffering from the same disadvantages. However, once these profiles are more thoroughly fleshed out, the government, at all levels, will develop support groups to remedy the problems. In the meantime, the report suggests that public schools and libraries act as “community access centers” for those communities unable to access information on their own.


  1. Including public schools in the solution is a good idea, but it's going to take a huge increase in funding to make this feasible.

    There also could be potential problems with freedom of use. If schools are allowing the public in, concerns could be raised about the sites adults visit--if they are sites that would be deemed inappropriate for children/the school environment, does the school have a right to restrict what people look at on their premises (in order to "protect children" who will use the computers later)?

  2. the internet is vastly different now than it was 13 years ago when this report came out. ideas regarding freedom of use were just beginning to develop. do you think the concerns you present are still viable in 2009?

  3. While I would ask similar questions about public schools being used as community access centers, I didn't read this suggestion in the same way. I interpreted this paragraph as argument for public schools and public libraries to make a larger commitment to providing access to their established users, ie, for the schools it would mean doing more to provide improved access for students, and for libraries to commit to being "pivotal" in providing access for all community members. I might have read it incorrectly, and I would like to know if I did! But, what I found most interesting in this paragraph was the fact that this "pivotal role" was proposed for libraries and schools for "at least during the interim period" (first full paragraph on last page, just above II.) What is the "interim"? What was the time line for public access to the "NII" thirteen years ago? Has this been the interim? The role of the public library in providing computer access is definitely pivotal, and it doesn't seem to have an end-date.

  4. Lori, I interpreted the paragraph the same as you did. I believe the article was arguing for schools to help support the information access and computer literacy needs of their students and the public libraries would do the same for their patrons.

    One point that I think is still relevant today is that it isn't enough to just provide computer and Internet access to people. Libraries need to provide workshops that help patrons develop basic computer skills and that teach them how to perform basic online tasks (i.e. e-mail, using search engines, etc.) The same goes for secondary schools. If policymakers want to "efficiently target support to [the] information disadvantaged" (last page, first full paragraph) connectivity is only a small step in realizing this goal.