Where is Pensacola's

  • October 7, 2016
  • /   Phyllis Pooley/CREO
  • /   economy

Source: Pixabay.

The “digital divide” is a term used to describe the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet, and those who do not.

Considered an important issue beginning in the 1990s, the digital divide arguably impacts many fundamental aspects of life in a modern society, including economic equality, social mobility and economic growth.

In a global society an individual must be able to connect in order to function effectively in many occupations, acquire skills sets necessary for these occupations, access educational opportunities, access government services and in general broaden their knowledge of the world beyond their own door step.

Cox helps bridge digital divide

Cox Communications announced on Sept. 13 that they will offer discounted internet service — for about $10 per month — for families whose children are eligible for the reduced-price lunch plan.

The effort is through the company’s Connect2Compete program, which was previously only available to families with a child on free lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Based on income guidelines for this school year, a family of two that earns $29,637 a year is eligible for the reduced price lunch program.

A family of three that earns $37,296 a year is eligible for the reduced-price lunch program. Eligibility for free- or reduced-price lunch is often used as a way to gauge the poverty level of a school or community.

It is one of the 16 metrics in the Studer Community Institute's Pensacola Metro Dashboard. The Dashboard was designed with the University of West Florida to provide a snapshot of the economic, educational and social well-being of the community.

As of last school year, 60.6 percent of Escambia School District students were eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch. The state rate is 60.2 percent.

Key elements of the Connect2Compete program include:

— Internet access at the discounted price of $9.95/month.

— No price increases, no activation fees, and no equipment rental fees associated with the high-speed Internet program for two years.

— Free in-home WiFi, free installation and free access to hundreds of thousands of WiFi hotspots strategically located in markets across the country through Cox WiFi and Cable WiFi.

For more information or to sign up for Connect2Compete call (855) 222-3252, or visit www.connect2compete.org/cox.

The U.S. Census Bureau only recently started asking people about their ownership of computers in their home. Questions about the presence of computers, types of computers and Internet subscriptions were added to the 2013 and 2014 American Community Survey. The questions asked about ownership and use of all types of computers, including smart phones, and about various types of Internet access including dial up, DSL, cable modem and mobile broadband.

The one-year estimates produced in 2013 and 2014 contain significant margins of error for smaller geographies, but still reveal some interesting facts about the Pensacola area and the nation as a whole.

Credit: CREO. Source: 2014 American Community Survey One-Year Estimate

Credit: CREO. Source: 2014 American Community Survey One-Year Estimate

The first bit of news for Pensacola is good. The area has a higher level of both computer ownership and internet connectivity than does the nation as a whole. It may seem that household ownership levels should be higher, given how long personal computing has been in existence and with the rise of social media, but interestingly enough the ACS also reports 3 percent of Pensacola households do not even have a telephone.

Next, the data from the ACS on computing is also available for various demographic characteristics within the region. The data covers topics such as ownership by educational attainment and employment status. Data for the percentage of those who do not possess computers or internet connections by different characteristics is shown in the following tables.

Credit: CREO. Source: 2014 American Community Survey One-Year Estimate.

Credit: CREO. Source: 2014 American Community Survey One-Year Estimate.


Credit: CREO. Source: 2014 American Community Survey One-Year Estimate.

It is this data that begins to reflect the differing levels of accessibility to home-based computing within Pensacola. The tables show that one in four households headed by someone with less than a high school education is without a computer as compared to one in 40 households headed by college educated individuals. Computers are present in over 14 of every 15 households headed by a white householder, while only 13 out of every 15 black households have a computer. Only slightly over half of households with incomes less than $20,000 per year have access to the internet.

In the United States, the digital divide was first looked at as a rural versus urban phenomenon.

As the use of computers grew, the focus was on the gap between those with access to high-speed connections and those without.

Now, in looking at the initial data from the ACS, the divide may now be one based solely on household income level (which is a factor most often influenced by education, employment and, sadly enough, race or gender). There is some hope for improvements in this area as the federal Lifeline program, which has provided discounted telephone service since 1985, was recently revised to begin allowing for increased smart phone availability.

Because the margins of error are so high with one-year estimates, no firm conclusions can be drawn for Pensacola as yet. Better information will be available once the Census Bureau can produce five-year estimates based upon these questions. This and knowing the effect revised Lifeline service changes have on the data will help define the extent of the problem more accurately.

Phyllis K. Pooley serves as director of special projects with the UWF Office of Economic Development and Engagement in Pensacola.