As the Pew Internet Project documented in its “Home Broadband 2009” report, African Americans trail the national average in broadband access at home, and have experienced below-average growth in home broadband adoption the past two years. Some 46% of African Americans report having broadband at home in April 2009, up slightly from 43% in 2008 and 40% in 2007.
The lower level of home broadband access among African Americans, in conjunction with lower levels of ownership of “heavy” access devices – desktop and laptop computers – helps explain less frequent online access when the questions are framed in terms of traditional access.
The picture changes when including access on a handheld and with the broader measure of wireless use that includes laptops and other devices. For each measure, use among African Americans matches or exceeds that of white Americans. Two measures of engagement with the wireless online – accessing the internet on a handheld on the typical day or ever – shows that Africans Americans are 70% more likely to do this than white Americans.
When tethered and wireless access are considered together, the gaps in online engagement between whites and blacks largely dissipates. Nearly as many African Americans have cell phone or online access as whites, with a gap of only 4 percentage points. African Americans tend to be more oriented to use of the handheld device, while whites are more likely to engage in a wider range of online activities. Though African Americans have a slightly higher average for the total number of digital activities, the difference between whites and blacks is not statistically significant.
Additionally, the likelihood of going online “yesterday” changes when mobile access enters the picture. The survey question on whether someone used the internet yesterday is framed largely in terms of computer access, as it follows shortly after a respondent is asked whether he uses a computer. That question yields a 14-point gap between whites and blacks, as 45% of blacks say they went online on the prior day and 59% of whites say this. When mobile internet access is included, the gap narrows. Some 54% of African Americans have gone online “yesterday” by mobile or other means, while 61% of whites have done this.