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Californians Expand Use of Computers, Internet, Broadband—But Digital Divide Leaves Many Behind

Posted on 07/22/2009

The Public Policy Institute of California released a survey last month titled Californians and Information Technology. Despite tough economic times, the survey finds that broadband adoption increased 7 points from last year (62% today, 55% 2008) and the share of Californians with Internet access at home is up 4 points (67% today, 63% 2008). Overall Internet use rose 6 points (76% today, 70% 2008). Computer ownership is up 3 points (75% today, 72% 2008).

Residents have increased their use of social networking sites 11 points from last year (37% today, 26% 2008). They are also more likely to turn to the Internet to get government resources (51% today, 43% 2008) and news (63% today, 55% 2008), go shopping (58% today, 52% 2008), and find information about health (55% today, 50% 2008), their communities (53% today, 47% 2008), and housing (44% today, 40% 2008).

"Californians increasingly see their computers and the Internet as necessities, not luxuries," says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. "At a time when most economic indicators are going down, these technology indicators are going up."

Among the survey findings:

  • Californians' computer and Internet use increased at a faster pace in 2009 than in previous years..
  • The digital divide has narrowed significantly among some demographic groups, but the gap remains for Latino, less-educated, and immigrant residents.

Although most demographic groups report increases in computer ownership, Internet connectivity, and broadband adoption, a digital divide persists. Just over half of Latinos (52%) say they have home computers, far lower than the percentage of Asians (89%), whites (87%), and blacks (75%) who do. Only 39 percent of Latinos have a home broadband connection, compared to 75 percent of whites, 74 percent of Asians, and 62 percent of blacks.

In spite of the persistence of the digital divide, the survey finds that a strong majority of Californians (93%) view Internet access very (72%) or somewhat (21%) important. Across demographic groups, Californians place a high value on access, with 75 percent of Latinos — the least likely to have an Internet connection — saying it is very important. Most non-Internet users (84%) also say access is important.

The survey also explores why some are not wired, the use of social networking, and the use of cell phones for text messaging, connecting to the Internet and email.

The full 38 page report is available on the PPIC Website [pdf] and a 2-page summary is available here [pdf].