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  • Closing the Digital Divide in South Carolina

    October 2013

  • Closing the Digital Divide in South Carolina 2 October 2013 www.connectsc.org

    The “digital divide” has been defined by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as the divide between those who have access to new technologies and those who do not.1 In the United States, residents with lower income or less education, African Americans, the elderly, and those living in rural areas have historically been on the wrong side of the digital divide.

    As technology evolves, broadband’s impact have expanded into every aspect of our society including education, healthcare, and economic development. Therefore, the digital divide has become a very important socio-economic issue that deserves efforts from researchers as well as policymakers to bridge.

    Broadband, or high-speed Internet, has been identified as a tool that has various benefits to the whole society. The gap in broadband adoption has been examined using some demographic or geographic factors in certain areas in the US. This report will investigate how the gap in South Carolina broadband adoption changed over time by some socio-economic factors, and how the gap could be impacted by these factors based on Connect South Carolina 2010, 2011, and 2012 Residential Technology Assessments.

    Trends in Broadband Adoption in South Carolina

    Like the rest of America, South Carolina saw its broadband adoption rate drop in 2011. In 2012, though, the state rebounded to report the highest broadband adoption rate in the state’s history (Figure 1).

    Even though home broadband adoption is increasing statewide, the state is below the national average in terms of home broadband adoption – across the states surveyed by Connected Nation in 2012, 70% of households subscribed to home broadband service, and a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life project similarly reported that 70% of American households subscribe to home broadband service in 2013.2 In addition, some South Carolina residents are less likely to subscribe to broadband than others in the state. In 2012, South Carolinians with lower income or less education, minority residents, the elderly, and those living in rural areas are still less likely to subscribe to home broadband service (Figure 2).

    1 The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, http://www.ntia.doc.gov/legacy/ntiahome/fttn99/introduction.html 2 Zickhur, Kathryn and Aaron Smith. Home Broadband 2013. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Released August 26, 2013, accessed on August 26, 2013. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Broadband.aspx

    2010

    62%

    57%

    66%

    2011 2012

    Figure 1. Broadband Adoption in South Carolina

    Statewide Annual Household Incomes Below

    $25,000

    No College Education

    African Americans

    Age 65 or Older

    Rural Residents

    66%

    36% 42%

    50% 41%

    56%

    Figure 2. 2012 Home Broadband Adoption Rates in South Carolina

  • Closing the Digital Divide in South Carolina 3 October 2013 www.connectsc.org

    Gap Analysis over Time by Demographic

    Although certain South Carolina residents are still less likely to subscribe to home broadband service, Connect South Carolina’s Residential Technology Assessments show that efforts across the state are working to close the gap in broadband adoption.

    The broadband adoption gap between the statewide average and African Americans, the elderly, and rural South Carolina residents has decreased since 2010 (Figure 3).

    Notably, the broadband adoption gap between African Americans and the state average has diminished by five (5) percentage points between 2010 and 2012. The gap between elderly in the state has closed by one (1) percentage point, while the broadband adoption gap between rural residents and the statewide average has closed by six (6) percentage points over the past several years. This suggests that although broadband adoption rates are still lower among these segments of the population, they are catching up with the rest of the state, thanks in part to efforts designed to increase broadband availability, adoption, and use within these communities.

    In contrast, the broadband adoption gap between low-income households in the state and among those with no college education has increased slightly over this same time period. This suggests that without a concerted effort, these individuals may end up further behind in their technology adoption and usage.

    Demographic Impact on Broadband Adoption Gaps Between Rural and Non-Rural South Carolinians

    In addition to differences in technology adoption across demographic groups, there are differences within each demographic category. For example, rural South Carolinians have traditionally been less likely to subscribe, yet this gap varies in size between different populations living in rural parts of the state.

    Annual Household Incomes Below

    $25,000

    No College Education

    African Americans

    Age 65 or Older

    Rural Residents

    2%

    50% 56%

    2% 1%

    -5% -6%

    -1%

    Figure 3. Changes in the Broadband Adoption Gap in South Carolina (2010 - 2012)

  • Closing the Digital Divide in South Carolina 4 October 2013 www.connectsc.org

    On average, the gap in broadband adoption was 13% between these two groups across the state in 2012, but it is not consistent across different demographics (Table 1).

    Along the income line, the broadband gap tends to shrink between rural and non-rural residents in South Carolina. This decrease in gap seems significant in a higher income bracket. In fact, the gap in broadband adoption decreased to 4% among those with household incomes of $50,000 or more. In addition, the divide between rural and non-rural areas closes to 6% among low-income households in each area. This indicates that household income is a factor that needs to be considered for a program designed to close the gap.

    In addition to income, educational attainment is also a variable that may play a role in bridging the broadband adoption gap. When rural adults with a college education are compared to urban and suburban college-educated adults, the gap drops to 8 percentage points. The same holds true for individuals with no college education.

    Non-rural Caucasians are 7 percentage points more likely to have broadband at home compared to rural Caucasians. By contrast, non-rural minorities are 17 percentage points more likely to adopt broadband at home than rural minority adults. This suggests that rural minority residents in South Carolina are significantly less likely than their urban or suburban peers to subscribe to home broadband service.

    The gap appears to increase between rural and non-rural residents when both of them are younger, employed, or have children at home, as these factors have traditionally increased the likelihood of an individual subscribing to home broadband service. However, this also suggests that rural South Carolinians who are younger, employed, or have children living at home face additional challenges that their suburban or urban peers do not experience, ranging from lower household incomes to decreased home broadband availability.

    West Carolina Telephone Cooperative’s Broadband Initiatives to Promote Broadband Adoption The West Carolina Telephone Cooperative (WCTEL) was established in 1952 by a group of people who focused on bringing affordable telephone service to the rural areas of Abbeville, McCormick, and Anderson counties. West Carolina Telephone believes that high-speed Internet and reliable broadband are a necessity and integral part of businesses and people’s lives. In order for their customers to access the advanced technology, WCTEL has continued to invest in its network over the last 60 years. Today, WCTEL has a fiber optic network delivering state of the art broadband, video, voice and security solutions to its customers in Abbeville, McCormick, and Anderson counties.

    With all of WCTEL’s subscribers now having access to broadband speeds up to 100 megabits per second, it is taking on the digital divide through a number of initiatives. First, it is promoting awareness of available services by informing subscribers through various outlets that every household within its territory has access to fast broadband service. In addition, WCTEL provides free or low-cost devices such as the Kindle Fire HD, which allows access to the Internet, social media, distance learning, digital entertainment, and e-mail as well as other online applications. WCTEL is also tackling the problem of digital literacy through a partnership with Abbeville County Adult Education through a pilot program that will offer free basic computer literacy classes. These classes will focus on improving digital literacy skills across all segments of the population, particularly among rural residents, low-income households, and senior citizens.

    Statewide 13%

    By Demographic

    Income of less than $25,000 7%

    Income of greater than $25,000 to less than $50,000

    10%

    Income of $50,000 or more 4%

    White 7%

    Minority 17%

    Age 18-54 18%

    Age 55 or older 2%

    No college education 8%

    With College education 8%

    Male 11%

    Female 13%

    Employed 14%

    Not employed 9%

    With children at home 18%

    No children at home 9%

    Table 1. Gap in Broadband Adoption Between Rural

    and Non-rural Residents