July 28, 1998

CONTACT: Sallianne Fortunato
(202) 482-7002


Statement by Larry Irving

Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

U.S. Department of Commerce

July 28, 1998

Today, the Department of Commerce is releasing the findings of a study that shows that many Americans are not sharing the benefits of the Information Age. The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) conducted this study, at the request of Vice President Gore, to determine which Americans are, and are not yet, connected by telephone and computer.

This report updates an earlier study, published by the Department of Commerce, which used 1994 census data. The findings of this new study are promising on one level. Between 1994 and 1997, the number of Americans that own computers has increased by over 50% and the number of households using e-mail has quadrupled. Americans, of all ages, races, and backgrounds, are increasingly plugged in to our information infrastructure.

Nevertheless, for many Americans, access to the Information Superhighway is still beyond their grasp. In fact, for far too many Americans, the information revolution is still only a rumor. While the nation-wide telephone penetration rate remains at a relatively high level of 93.8%, the same as in 1994, some pockets of Americans still have no telephone service. In fact, chances are one in four that you have no phone service if you earn less than $5,000. Whites still have a far higher telephone penetration rate (95.9%) than Blacks (86.0%) and Hispanics (86.5%).

There are even more disturbing disparities in computer ownership and access to on-line services. Although more Americans now own computers than before, households earning more than $75,000 are approximately seven times as likely to own a computer as those earning between $5,000-$10,000. White households are still more than twice as likely (40.8%) to own a computer than Black households (19.3%) or Hispanic households (19.4%).

More alarming, this "digital divide" has widened since 1994. The gaps in ownership levels between Whites and Blacks, and Whites and Hispanics, are now greater today than they were three years ago. The "digital divide" has also widened between high-income households and low-income households.

These findings underscore the importance of programs, such as NTIA's Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) and the E-Rate. Both programs reach out to communities that lack electronic resources at home by making electronic services available in schools, libraries, community centers, and other public resources.