Digital gap tough to fill

By Todd Cohen

The population of Internet users in the U.S. is fluid and shifting, making it tough to map and address the gap between Americans with access to the Web and those without access, a new study says.

Of the roughly four in 10 Americans who do not use the Internet, many are online “dropouts” or simply have opted not to use the Internet, says “The Ever-Shifting Internet Population” by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C.

Because the offline population can be hard to track, the study says, efforts to close the “digital divide” might best focus on the 40 percent of users who expect to go online.

Those users are likely to be younger, urban, poor and non-white, says the study, which reports continuing gaps in Internet access between users who are rich and poor, well-educated and less-well-educated, rural and suburban, black and white, disabled and non-handicapped, and old and young.

Effective efforts to close those gaps, the study says, include making computers and long-term Internet access more affordable, making public computers available and more accessible, particularly computers with “adaptive” technology for disabled persons, and ensuring that those who want to go online can stay there.

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