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Minority Mobile Broadband Use Survey Results support Importance of Libraries

During this summer, I got into the habit of working from the public library closest to my sons’ day camp. I would drop off my two boys in the morning, then drive a few short miles to the local public library where I would set up shop and get my work done. I knew it had free wi-fi and working there for the day was an easier option than driving to the office or back home given I would have to collect them a few hours later.

One thing that stood out to me was the fact that the county where the library was located in is multicultural but the majority of its residents are White. Nonetheless, I dare say 98% of those using the library’s computers or on laptops in the computer area taking advantage of the free wi-fi access were minorities. It appeared that a majority of them were using the computer access for job searches.  Some were doing coursework or conducting research for coursework, and others were like me, small business owners or entrepreneurs without an office but who wanted to work in an environment more conducive to getting work done.  I have broadband in my home and so it didn’t occur to me that maybe some of them did not and thus using the libraries free wi-fi was the only way they’d be able to access broadband to get their work done.

It was a real life testimony to what was concluded in a  July 2010 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on Mobile Access which said that African Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile web using a phone or a laptop and wireless access. Cell phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites (87% vs. 80%) and minority cell phone owners take advantage of a much greater range of their phones’ features compared with white mobile phone users. In total, 64% of African-Americans access the internet from a laptop or mobile phone, a seven-point increase from the 57% who did so at a similar point in 2009.

Certainly, a mobile phone cannot be a substitute for broadband in the home given that many applications cannot be successfully navigated on a mobile device and that some video content cannot be viewed properly on such a small screen. Furthermore, it would indeed be very unfortunate if minorities were relegated to experiencing broadband from what some have called a second-tier class.

Notwithstanding those concerns, I think my experience this summer alone is anecdotal support for the importance of community centers and libraries as integral parts of our National Broadband strategy. For in home use, which may be best for health applications, distance learning and certain broadband services, subsidized access, heavily discounted or free computers, laptops or devices like the iPad and computer literacy must be considered in order to encourage increased adoption and use by some minority communities.

In short order though, one solution for rapid-fire adoption and use is to ensure all existing libraries in the country are wired with the infrastructure, equipped with the most recent hardware and software and financed to fund staff that will train users in their communities.

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