Local News Spotlight

Google’s study of area shows a digital divide

Updated: 2012-06-23T05:27:59Z

By SANGEETA SHASTRY

The Kansas City Star

A quarter of Kansas Citians don’t have broadband Internet access at home, according to a study commissioned by Google as it prepares to launch its ultra-high-speed Google Fiber.

The study, released Friday, puts numbers on the digital divide between those who use the Internet and those who don’t.

The report found that of the 25 percent without broadband access, 68 percent don’t use the Internet at all. The remaining 32 percent either use slower Internet connections at home or get online in other ways, such as through libraries and cellphones.

Those with higher speed connections — up to 50 megabits per second — used the Web for what Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Access, called higher-value activities: doing research for work or school, paying bills and using search engines like Google.

But people who had slower connections spent more time downloading software and less time engaging in those higher-value activities.

“Being on a faster connection really correlates to higher job skills,” Lo said. “It correlates to better digital literacy.”

Of the 17 percent of people who simply don’t get online, just over 40 percent said they didn’t need the Internet and nearly 30 percent said that they didn’t have a computer or that access was too pricey.

A breakdown of the 17 percent: 44 percent are 65 and older, 46 percent are African-American, 42 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and 64 percent have an education of high school or less.

The study also asked people in the two Kansas Citys what Internet-related concerns they had in their neighborhoods. Among the problems were the cost of a computer or Internet service, a lack of knowledge about how to use those tools, the need for health information for seniors, and the need for online help with schoolwork for students who don’t have a connection at home.

Google partnered on the study with the Mayors’ Bistate Innovation Team.

While the speed Google promises — up to 1 gigabit per second, which is more than 100 times as fast as typical broadband connections — has the potential for many residents to move online faster than ever before, connecting the 25 percent who don’t have broadband should be a priority, Lo said.

Part of striking that balance is working with local groups that already have plans for the new service, the details of which Google has said will be announced later this summer.

“We’re really excited when people are able to take the tools and services, the products that we deliver, and do things that make it relevant to them,” he said.

But Lo also noted that the company is just one player in a community effort to decrease Kansas City’s digital divide.

“Google can’t solve the digital divide issue alone,” he said. “That’s not our place to, actually. We are one member of the community.”

To reach Sangeeta Shastry, call 816-234-4690 or send email to sshastry@kcstar.com.

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