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University of Iowa News Release


July 29, 2009

Hawkeye Poll: 40 percent of Chicagoans have little to no Web access

A University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll indicates that 40 percent of Chicago residents have little to no Web access.

The city-commissioned study, conducted as a partnership between the UI and the University of Illinois-Chicago in 2008, showed one in four Chicagoans are completely offline and an additional 15 percent have limited Internet access.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley shared the results at a July 21 news conference, unveiling an initiative to address the digital divide between the city's rich and poor neighborhoods.

He announced the launch of a program to bring technology resources to underserved neighborhoods (Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood and Pilsen) using federal stimulus money and donations from Microsoft, the MacArthur Foundation and other organizations. These four Chicago neighborhoods will receive free wireless broadband access and better community technology centers.

The researchers will do a follow-up study in two years to see if providing free wireless spurs economic development, creation of jobs, and better wages in depressed urban areas.

"Chicago is the only city in America with this type of detailed data on technology access for its population," said UI political scientist Caroline Tolbert (left). "It's gratifying as a researcher to know that our data helped illuminate a problem and influence policy in a positive way."

The data was collected by Tolbert and David Redlawsk, also a political scientist in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Merging the survey data with geographic data from the U.S. Census, Tolbert and UI graduate student Daniel Bowen created estimates of the percentage of Chicagoans with technology access by neighborhood and 77 community areas. The UI team worked closely with Karen Mossberger of the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The report, "Digital Excellence in Chicago: A City-Wide View of Internet Use," is based on a random-sample telephone survey of 3,453 Chicago residents age 18 and older. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish in June and July of 2008. Researchers asked questions about the availability of broadband at home, along with where and how people use the Internet.

The mayor praised the research, saying it drilled down to the neighborhood level to explore where and why the lack of access exists.

"The study tells us that the magnitude of the digital divide separating low-income Chicago neighborhoods is comparable to the rural-urban divide in broadband use," Daley said in a city-issued news release. "If we want to improve the quality of life for everyone, we must work to make sure that every resident and business has access to 21st-century technology in their own neighborhoods and homes."

The study revealed that Latinos have the least technology access in Chicago, trailing African Americans. Latinos and older residents lag behind in Internet use anywhere, home access and broadband access. For Latinos, language barriers pose a barrier to access, and for senior citizens, lack of interest or computer skills are primary problems. Cost is the most common barrier to home Internet use, particularly for low-income individuals, Latinos and African Americans.

The research showed that some neighborhoods lack the infrastructure to connect to the Web, and that large numbers of Chicagoans rely on libraries and community technology centers to access the Web (33 percent and 16 percent, respectively).

Tolbert said the overall numbers for Chicago -- that 25 percent of Chicagoans have no access, and another 15 percent have limited access -- parallel national surveys, which have shown that 75 percent of Americans have used the Web, but only 60 percent are "digital citizens" who do so daily. President Barack Obama has made digital infrastructure, such as broadband access, a key component of his 21st-century vision for America.

"Urban areas like Chicago and rural areas like Iowa continue to face the digital divide, and it's a problem that won't go away on its own," Tolbert said. "Government policy is needed to address inequities in technology access so individuals and communities can benefit both economically and in terms of civic engagement."

Editor's note: Some of the content for this story was adapted from a release issued by the City of Chicago on July 21, 2009.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070,