Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide, July 1999

This report on the telecommunications and information technology gap in America provides comprehensive data on the level of access by Americans to telephones, computers, and the Internet. It includes valuable information about where Americans are gaining access, what they are doing with their online connections, and provides trendline information since 1984.

According to the report, the number of Americans accessing the Internet has grown rapidly in the last year; yet, in the midst of this general expansion, the “digital divide” between information “haves” and “have nots” continues to widen.


Race or ethnic origin is a likely factor in determining who has access to computers and the Internet. Americans today are accessing the Internet with more regularity, and Black and Hispanic households are twice as likely to own computers today as they were in 1994. Yet, many race or origin groups are losing ground in computer and Internet connectivity when compared to the progress of Whites and those of Asian/Pacific Island descent. When holding income constant, Black and Hispanic households are still far less likely to have Internet access. Of all race or origin groups, households of Asian/Pacific descent have a clear lead in computer penetration and Internet access rates.


  • Whites are more likely to have access to the Internet from home, than Blacks or Hispanics have from any location.
  • Black and Hispanic households are 2/5 as likely to have home Internet access as White Households.
  • At the highest incomes ($75,000+), the White/Black divide for computer ownership decreased by 76.2 percent between 1994 and 1998.
  • American Indians/Eskimos/Aleuts, Blacks, and Hispanics more often turn to Internet access outside the home, compared to Whites.
  • Blacks using the Internet outside the home are 1.91 times more likely to use a public library or a community center for access than Whites. Other “non-Hispanic” minorities (including American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts and Asian/Pacific Islanders) are 1.24 times as likely as Whites.

Significant Findings

The “digital divide” between Whites and most minorities continues to grow. There are signs, however, that higher incomes are helping to narrow and could eventually close the gap. Eventually, falling prices may allow a greater number of people – regardless of race – to purchase computers and connect to the Internet. Waiting for prices to fall, however, is a long-term solution to the racial divide. In the short-term, community access centers (such as schools, public libraries, and community centers) can help to narrow the racial connectivity divide.

Reprinted with permission from Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide (Washington, D.C.: National Telecommunications Information Administration, 1999) http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/fttn99/FTTN.pdf. Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]