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Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion

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Citation Edit

National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion (Oct. 2000) (full-text).

Overview Edit

This is the fourth report in the U.S. Commerce Department's series of studies titled, Falling Through the Net. The previous three were focused on the theme of the "Digital Divide" — the concept that society should not be separated into information haves and information have-nots.

This report moved into a new phase of information-gathering and policy-making by recognizing the phenomenal growth that has taken place in the availability of computing and information technology tools, tempered by the realization that there is still much more to be done to make certain that everyone is included in the [[digital economy]. Thus, the theme "Toward Digital Inclusion," recognizes each element of the equation — the progress made and the progress yet to be made.

Measuring the growth and use of the Internet is, like the Internet itself, a complex endeavor. This report reflects the attempt to capture three of the key benchmarks. Part I looks at Internet and computer access of households. The household is the traditional standard by which access is defined in the United States and around the world. The examination of household access includes such factors as geography, income, race, and household type.

When looking at computer and Internet access, it is clear that certain groups have far higher levels of Internet access and computer ownership. These groups have generally exhibited greater percentage point changes in their penetration rates from one survey to the next. On the other hand, they exhibit slower expansion rates from one survey to the next. At the same time, groups with lower penetration rates are exhibiting smaller percentage point changes but higher expansion rates because they are starting from a much lower base and have more opportunity for rapid and greater expansion.

Part I also includes information on household access to high-speed Internet services, primarily through cable TV and DSL services. There are large differences in high-speed access based on income and other variables.

Part II provides a different way of looking at the penetration of Internet access and computers. Instead of looking at households, this section of the report examines computer and online access by individuals. Many households, for example, include people who do not use the Internet, and the rate or degree at which this occurs differs among groups. By focusing on individuals, we are also able to capture important differences in Internet use based on people's age, gender, and labor force status. We can also look at how people use the Internet, for example, for e-mail or to look for a job, as well as where they use it, whether at home or at a library, for example.

Part III, for the first time, examines the use of computers and the Internet among people with disabilities that adversely affect their ability to walk, to see, to hear, to use their hands and fingers, or to learn. In general, Internet access is half as common among people with disabilities as among other people, and computer access is even more skewed. To some degree this may reflect the fact that on average, disabled people are older and less likely to be employed, and also have lower incomes than people without disabilities. All of these variables are associated with lower computer and Internet use.

By preparing and issuing this report, we hope to establish an objective baseline so the American people can understand the critical issue of access to the information technologies that are transforming the economy and our lives. In this way, this report can provide a basis for the continuing public debate about how best to ensure that every American can participate in the digital economy.

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