What is the Digital Divide?

Most people think of the “Digital Divide” as the gap between those who can connect to the Internet and those who cannot. It is not just about the lack of an affordable connection; it also involves the lack of computer equipment and training necessary to use it effectively.  We believe “digital inclusion” is one of the most important social justice issues of our day.  In some circles the term “digital equity” is used because access is also an issue that has a profound effect on academic success and economic opportunity for those who live in under resourced urban communities.

Despite it’s growing reputation as an emerging tech hub, here in the Kansas City area there are tens of thousands of people on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.  In Northeast Wyandotte County and East of Troost Avenue, many inner city families that could greatly benefit from online resources lack Internet in their homes and the equipment and knowledge needed to access it. 80% of households in these neighborhoods do not own computers.

An intern assists a senior citizen in one of our free digital life skills classes.

An intern helps a senior in one of our free digital life skills classes.

Several tangible benefits come to low income families, seniors and the disabled by having an Internet-connected computer in the home:

  • Increased educational success at all levels
  • Online jobs search and career development
  • Access to social services and health information
  • Cost-saving advantages of online shopping
  • Search for vehicles and safe, affordable housing
  • Connect with family and friends
  • Assistance on the path to integration and citizenship

Sadly, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only fifty-four percent of adults living with a disability use the Internet, compared with 81% of adults who are not disabled. Although many disabled people have no trouble using the Internet, a large percentage of them are not able to access it in their homes.1 Their research also notes that only 42% of adults over 65 access the Internet. Additionally, just 63% of people with annual incomes under $30,000 are online compared to nearly 90% of those with incomes over $50,000.

The Digital Divide in Metro Kansas City

  • 50% of all households in Kansas City KS don’t have a static Internet connection in their homes. This makes KCK #7 among least connected large cities in America (2013 US Census)
  • 80% of households in low income, minority neighborhoods do not own computers or have Internet connections
  • 78% of these low income families reside in multifamily subsidized housing facilities
  • As a result, 70% of Kansas City Public Schools students have no Internet at home. 40% move during the school year.

kc-broadband-mapUsed by permission of the Open Technology Institute 2014

Reasons People Give for Not Getting Online

#1 is Cost – Biggest expense is a owning a computer.

#2 is Intimidation – Not knowing how to use the PC and the Internet. Where do they go to learn these skills?

#3 is Relevancy – Not knowing what can be done online and how it applies to their lives.

#4 is Affordable Service – However, if people have overcome 1-3 they will find a way to get connected!

All this shows that we still have a significant portion of the population who are unable to use the Internet for such activities as connecting with loved ones, job searches, accessing information on housing and social services, online learning opportunities and finding important health information.

With current wireless technology and lots of usable recycled PC equipment, there are ways to close this gap significantly if these resources were allocated properly. This is exactly what we have been doing through Connecting for Good since we started in 2011!

There is a second aspect to the Digital Divide; the gap between available technology and the use of these resources by nonprofit organizations. While corporate America is developing and using new technology at a dizzying pace, some estimate that nonprofit organizations are five years or more behind in being able to make effective use of what is currently available.  Learn more about how Connecting for Good is helping nonprofits, schools and churches.


1 Technology on MSNBC.com
2 Who’s Online: Internet User Demographics, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project
3 Bridge the Digital Divide web site
4 Despite Years of Discussion, There’s Still a Digital Divide, The NonProfitTimes, Nov. 1, 2005

06. December 2011 by Tom Esselman
Categories: Digital Inclusion Blog, Michael's Blog | Comments Off on What is the Digital Divide?