No internet for many
Nearly two in five Chicagoans have little or no access
08/12/2009 10:00 PM
Chicago’s digital divide — the disproportionate lack of internet access, usage and know-how in largely minority and low-income neighborhoods — remains a thorn in many city neighborhoods: nearly 40 percent of Chicagoans have little or no access to the internet. And 25 percent of the city is completely offline.
That data is according to a city-commissioned report released last month by University of Illinois-Chicago public administration professor Karen Mossberger and Caroline Tolbert of the University of Iowa.
The primary factors identified in keeping people offline were lack of interest, difficulty of use and cost. The report also suggests that language barriers and lack of familiarity with the internet that many immigrants must contend with are the primary reasons Latinos are less likely to seek out and take advantage of internet use, inside or out of the home.
“For a lot of low-income people, it’s just the idea of one more bill,” that keeps them offline, Mossberger said.
The problem can be seen in neighborhoods like Pilsen, the predominately Mexican-American and immigrant neighborhood southwest of downtown.
The city has selected the neighborhood as a Digital Excellence Demonstration Community (DEDC), a designation that will potentially bring funding for internet access efforts to the area.
Jaime Guzman, who is directing DEDC projects for the Resurrection Project, declined to get into specifics about their proposals because the group is applying for federal funds Alex Morales, a project coordinator for the Resurrection Project, talked about the group’s plans in general terms.
Morales stressed the need to create awareness of the internet and what it can offer, from communicating with family out of the country to landing a better job.
“I know that the majority of the people here in the neighborhood are aware there’s that thing called the internet,” he said, “but the problem is lack of education and lack of access. They don’t know how it would benefit them.”
“Without computer use and internet access,” Morales said, “you won’t have the training necessary to learn basic administrative tasks on a computer. And a lot of the time, that’s what gives you that extra push to make the leap into a better career.”
Educating children and teens at after school programs and reaching adults at internet hubs set up at local parishes and community centers are two ideas the group has floated, he said.
Andrew Pincon, of the Arturo Velasques West Side Technical Institute, 2800 S. Western, said study after study has shown Hispanic populations lagging in internet use and education.
“The Hispanic population is the most stuck in the digital divide,” said Pincon, who directs a program that trains students to refurbish used computers, which are then sold back to the community at low rates.
“It’s not about surfing websites,” Pincon said. “It’s about educating people to participate in the 21st century global economy.”
Mossberger’s research agrees. Her report states repeatedly that Hispanics see far less internet use and access than any other ethnicity, grouping them with the elderly as those “least likely to use the internet anywhere,” including libraries and community technology centers.
Home use is where people most benefit, providing more time to gain necessary skills, according to Mossberger.
You don’t get the same kind of autonomy when not at home, she said.
Mossberger’s poll also found that 89 percent of respondents favor a wireless policy from the city, and 50 percent favored wireless access throughout the city.
Sixty percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay a small tax or fee to provide wireless internet service.