With network neutrality poised to make a potential return to Capitol Hill, the latest surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center will be seized as ammo for those who don’t want to to see a tiered pipeline take hold on digital platforms.
Simply put, the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to utilize the internet by every measure, according to the PRC’s Internet & American Life Projects (check out all the data). Based on a trio of phone surveys done from late 2009 through September of this year, the numbers show higher-income households go online more often, do more things online and own more web-connected devices.
For instance, with regard to digital content: 70 percent of those in households of over $75,000 per year own iPods or other MP3 players, compared with 42 percent of those living in less well-off homes. In households that make over $150,000, 55 percent have paid for digital content, compared with 42 percent in lesser-income households. Other stats gauge everthing from online banking to news consumption. Even iPads and other tablets, in just 9 percent of $75k-plus households, are three times as likely to show up there than in lesser-income homes.
The underlying presumption of these numbers is that poorer people cannot afford the access to the internet. There’s probably a whole lot more nuance to what’s going on here, but no matter: rest assured these numbers will arm advocates for net neutrality who have long argued that without a level playing field online, the people who need to access resources most online will be the least likely to do that.
The nightmare scenario of a world where digital content can be prioritized is that certain services will be priced out of the reach of average Americans. What these Pew numbers indicate is that even in advance of such a scenario, economic factors are already shaping a digital divide in this country, one that could widen if additional cost barriers are put in place.
Let’s see how quickly the Pew data enters the debate, one that could start raging today if FCC announces that net neutrality will be on the agenda for its last meeting of the year.