Report: Despite high Internet use in Austin, demographic discrepancies persist

Sebastian Herrera

The percent of residents who use the Internet in Austin is higher than the national average, but a report from UT and the City claims Austin still has a wide demographic discrepancy in its Internet access.

The report is based on a citywide survey of 1,908 Austin residents and analyzed which devices residents use to access the Internet and where they access it.

According to the report, which was released Tuesday, 92 percent of Austin households have access to Internet, compared to the national average of 72 percent. However, only 80 percent of African-American homes have Internet, and 91 percent of Hispanic households have access to the Internet — both of which are lower than the 94.5 percent of white, non-Hispanic houses that have Internet access.

“In spite of the fact that in many ways Austin’s use of a lot of technologies exceed the national statistics, there is still a group of people in the city that is not connected,” said Sharon Strover, radio-television-film professor and lead author of the report. “Income clearly has a lot to do with it. There’s definitely a role in public policy to [remedy] it.”

Older and less educated residents are less likely to use the Internet, according to the report.

In the report, 61 percent of non-Internet users said that cost is a factor for not being connected. The report also found that non-Internet users are less likely to be aware of free public Wi-Fi locations in the city.

Early results from the survey were used to form the city’s first Digital Inclusion Strategic Plan. The city adopted than plan in November 2014 in an effort to improve digital inclusion opportunities in Austin, according to John Speirs, program coordinator for the City’s Grant for Technology Opportunities program, which seeks to help local organizations provide digital access to residents.

“We want to go on the front lines and provide opportunities to improve the connectivity for all Austin residents,” Speirs said. “We found out what the barriers are for residents for Internet and technology so we could learn how to best serve them.”

Speirs said the digital inclusion plan includes programs that fund nonprofits that provide public access to Internet and free training for non-users.

As a Tier One university, UT should be the leader for improvement in Internet connectivity in Austin, according to radio-television-film graduate student Kyung Sun Lee.

Lee said that the University charging students for extended Wi-Fi is an example that UT doesn’t place much emphasis on improving the overall landscape of Internet access in the city.

“Access to the internet is not being seen as a public right,” Lee said. “It’s being seen as something to be capitalized on by businesses, and the University [is] trying to act like it’s a business instead of being an example for Internet access.”