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Smartphones Aiding in Digital Divide

With the continuing advancement in technology, minorities are using smartphones as an alternative way other than home broadband to connect with the online world - with African American millennials leading the pack. Smartphones are aiding in the digital divide, but with some challenges. Sixty-eight percent of Americans now own a smartphone, that’s an increase from 55 percent two years ago. The increase in smartphone-only users reflects the slow decline in home broadband use. This shift is mostly due to the rising cost of home broadband subscriptions, expensive costs of computers, having other options for internet access outside of home and lack of utility available in rural areas.

African Americans and Hispanics are the fastest group that exhibit the sharpest increase in smartphone-only for online access at home. In 2013, ten percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics depended on a smartphone for home internet connectivity. In 2015, Africans Americans increased to 19 percent and Hispanics to 23 percent. Out of the 19 percent of African Americans, 91 percent (Nielsen 2016 report: black millennials close the digital divide) say they access the internet on a mobile device. 

This adoption of smartphone-only to access the internet does not come without its challenges. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 report, “Although smartphones help those without home broadband to access the internet, this group frequently encounters a number of constraints with data caps. Additionally, smartphone-dependent internet users are more likely to cancel or suspend their service because of financial constraints. There are other challenges. For example, 28% of adults have used a smartphone as part of their employment search, and half of those have filled out a job application using a smartphone. But mobile job seekers often encounter difficulties like accessing and reading content, as well as trouble submitting files and documents.”

Even though more African Americans and Hispanics can access online information via their smartphone, they view the lack of home broadband keeps them at a disadvantage. Some reasons cited as a disadvantage are finding out about job opportunities or gaining new career skills, learning about or accessing government services, learning new things that may improve their lives and getting health information.

Granted, there are hurdles for smartphone-dependent internet users to overcome by not having home broadband. The good news is that great efforts in technology are being made to close the digital divide, but we still have a way to go. Considering technology continues to improve and advance, these barriers that smartphone-dependent users encounter will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Melvin Bogard, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland