Consumer Groups Urge Federal Policy on Digital Access

Consumer Groups Urge Federal Policy on Digital AccessWASHINGTON
Although nearly two-thirds of all Americans now have access to the Internet, less affluent households run the risk of being shut out of the digital economy because they are not as likely to be online, according to a May report sponsored by major U.S. consumer groups. As a result, the report recommends the U.S. government should reinstate technology-grant programs that have been proposed for elimination in 2003 and should consider subsidizing access for low-income and hard-to-reach households.
“In our view, the fact that we have reached the halfway point in the diffusion of Internet access at home reinforces the need to seek policies to get the job done as quickly as possible,” said the report, which was written by the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy.
Digital access policies resulted initially over concerns of a digital divide first surfacing when the Internet began reaching a mass audience in the mid-1990s. Surveys showed then that Internet users tended to be affluent and White. Most recently, survey figures have shown that gap narrowing as more Americans go online. As of September 2001, 66 percent of the population used the Internet, with access growing fastest among households earning less than $15,000 per year, according to figures prepared by the Department of Commerce. The same report found racial and ethnic gaps narrowing as well.
Nonetheless, households earning more than $50,000 are still three times more likely to have Internet access at home than households earning less than $25,000, the consumer groups pointed out. More affluent households are also more likely to have signed up for high-speed access, the report stated.
“Is the glass half empty or half full? Given the importance of the Internet across a wide range of activities, the speed with which things develop in cyberspace and the emerging indications of another digital divide on the high-speed Internet, we must say the glass is half empty and in need of filling,” the report said. 



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