To a point.
According to U.S. Census data, the growth in smartphone use in recent years has helped shrink the Internet access disparity gaps that exists between better educated, high-income residents and their less educated, lower-income counterparts.
Technology industry experts say lack of Internet access has stifled many low-income and minority residents' educational and economic opportunities. Still, while smartphones have helped, greater access to at-home broadband Internet is needed to truly close the disparity gap, particularly in rural areas where the gap is the widest, experts say.
Census data released in June show that in 2011, when compared to percentages of home Internet use, smartphones appeared to be leveling the Internet use disparities traditionally present for race and ethnicity groups. While 27 percentage points separated the highest and lowest reported rates of home Internet use, a smaller gap of 18 percentage points emerged once smartphone use was factored into overall connectivity rates, the data shows.
"We're at an interesting moment with wireless Internet," said
Area residents who have held off buying smart phones due to low incomes could soon have some more affordable options. MetroPCS, a
Specifically, MetroPCS will open a service store in
The company offers relatively cheap,
"We're focusing on people who are looking for more affordable service," Cox said.
The company sells a variety of Android and Windows brand smartphones with its plans, but not Apple's iPhone. All the phones will be available on T-Mobile's 4th generation network. 4G technology offered by cell phone carriers provides the fastest Internet data speeds for smartphones.
"The prepaid market is growing rapidly because it costs less," Kagan said. "T-Mobile wants to enter that space with a totally new plan."
Census data help show why that market exists. According to figures from 2011, rural states, including
"In rural areas, the availability of Internet is still an issue ... in urban areas people are pretty well-served," Strover said. "When you look at adoption figures, you're going to see a persistent gap between urban and more rural, poor people."
The lack of Internet access was more prevalent among minorities and low income residents, the census data show. For instance, 75 percent of whites reported having Internet in the home, while about 60 percent of blacks and 54 percent of Hispanics reported the same. Meanwhile, about 86 percent of high income individuals reported connecting to the Internet, compared with 49.8 percent of individuals living in households making less than
The lack of Internet access also hurts low income and minority residents' ability to move up the economic ladder, said
"The Internet is not just for consumption, it's an engine for accessing jobs and starting small online businesses," Miller said.
Miller said smartphones are helping to close the Internet gap, but they can't do it completely.
"We see mobile broadband as an on-ramp, but we don't see it being as good as full in-home broadband Internet," Miller said. "There are still things you can do on a desktop computer that you can't do on mobile devices, like starting a business."
Strover agreed that smartphones still do have some limitations.
"It's hard to fill out forms like job applications on those small screens," she said.
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