Device Divides, Mobile vs Wired Broadband: The Social Implications for Urban and Rural Communities
Posted: 14 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 13, 2018
A growing cohort of urban and rural residents -- 20% of all adults -- are “smartphone reliant” for broadband internet access. Wireless only access is concentrated amongst those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Close to 30% of adults who are black, Latino, young adults, and in poorer households fall into this category. In rural areas, where 40% of households cannot access broadband at all, government and private initiatives that provide access are increasingly focused on “leapfrogging” wired infrastructures in favor of wireless only solutions. What are the tradeoffs associated with leapfrogging wired access for wireless dependence in the US? Do these modes of access, and inherent device dependence, offer equivalent opportunities for social connectivity and access to information on jobs, education, and health? This panel brings together leading experts on the study of the social implications of the internet. They offer their perspectives based on recent projects, including: nationally representative surveys; a study of three low income neighborhoods in Detroit; a study of rural Michigan households; a study of diverse neighborhoods in Blacksburg, Virginia; and in-depth interviews with users of assurance Lifeline phones. This panel presents evidence that individuals who are dependent on wireless infrastructure for broadband access struggle to maintain physical and social connectivity in comparison to those with traditional wired access. The proliferation of cellphones, the drop in landlines, and reliance on mobile only broadband access may be contributing to a new era of cycling phonelessness or, dependable instability that disrupts social connectivity as users become vigilant about data caps and subject to connection disruptions. Mobile phone-only access to broadband does not provide equivalent access to information regarding employment, education and health care. “Content creation” tasks are especially challenging on mobile devices -- for instance, filling out forms, writing and submitting job resumes, and participation in community forums. Even the process of managing files in the cloud requires considerable effort. Evolving federal policies fail to adequately deal with the cycle of phonelessness (e.g., Lifeline), and push opportunities to leapfrog wired access in favor of wireless solutions (see Executive Order published January 8, 2018). At the same time, governments and private organizations continue to invest in mobile solutions, such as mHealth, with the goal of overcoming social inequalities through mobile access. While a wireless broadband infrastructure may reduce some access inequalities, it may generate new access inequalities related to devices, and it provides a very different and likely impoverished experience. In short, cellphone dependence is not equivalent to wired broadband in terms of the type or quality of access to entertainment, social support, or information that it provides.
Panelists: Bianca Reisdorf, The Quello Center and the Department of Media & Information, Michigan State University Amy Gonzales, The Media School, Indiana University Bloomington Andrea Kavanaugh, Center for HCI, Virginia Tech Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center Keith N. Hampton, The Quello Center and the Department of Media & Information, Michigan State University
Moderator: Keith N. Hampton, The Quello Center and the Department of Media & Information, Michigan State University
Keywords: broadband, mobile, rural, inequality, divide
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