Since the mid-1990s when the World Wide Web became a powerful part of America's communications and information culture, there has been great concern that the nation's racial minorities and other underserved and disadvantaged populations would be further disadvantaged because Internet access was not spreading as quickly in the African-American community as it was in the White community. Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Larry Irving, said the following in his introduction to Falling Through the Net, the 1999 Department of Commerce Study on the digital divide (the divide between those with access to new information technologies and those without): [The digital divide is now one of America's leading economic and civil rights issues] (US Department of Commerce, 1999a). The basis for the secretary's assertion can be found in US telecommunications policy. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is within the US Department of Commerce and functions as the US president's principal advisory body on telecommunications policy (US Department of Commerce, 1995). A fundamental premise of US telecommunications policy is the notion that all Americans should have access to affordable telephone service (universal service). Prior to this point, the most commonly used measure of universal service was telephone penetration or the percentage of all households in America that have a telephone on the premises (US Department of Commerce, 1995). However, significant growth in personal computer ownership and Internet access (see Chaps. 6 and 7) suggested the need to go beyond telephone penetration as a metric of universal access (US Department of Commerce, 1995). To accomplish this goal, the NTIA contracted with the Census Bureau to include questions regarding computer/modem ownership and usage in the Bureau's Current Population Survey, and to cross tab this information via several geodemographic characteristics (US Department of Commerce, 1995). This chapter will discuss the evidence and evolution of the digital divide in the US.
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