(Photo via Kevin Lisota)
(Photo via Kevin Lisota)

There’s another way to look at the fact that 85 percent of Seattle residents have Internet access at home.

Fifteen percent — roughly 93,000 people — still do not.

That’s the finding from the City of Seattle’s latest report on residents’ technology use and adoption, which it released last week.

This deep into the digital age, it’s worth asking: Who are our city’s disconnected, and what’s keeping them from plugging in?

The report goes out of its way to find out, which is refreshing. At a time when courting digital audiences breeds the most attention, influence and profit, few institutions even bother.

That neglect comes at a cost. As you’d expect, those with less education and less income make less use of the Internet here in Seattle, as is likely the case anywhere.

Seattle's Latino community has the least home Internet access. The last bullet point here reads, "Have more focus groups like this one."
Seattle’s Latino community has the least home Internet access. The last bullet point here reads, “Have more focus groups like this one.”

But if we want to build a stronger city, it’s the neighbors with the quietest digital voices we most need to hear.

Who’s left out?

Steeped in Seattle’s mostly white, mostly well to do tech scene, it’s easy to forget how diverse this city really is.

Apart from a phone and online survey, the city convened nine focus groups, each with about 20 people, representing various underserved communities.

Six of the focus groups gathered native speakers of five groups of languages — Spanish, Amharic, Somali, Chinese and Vietnamese. Others polled English speakers with disabilities and African-American residents.

Fewer than half of the members of these focus groups have Internet access at home (though if you count mobile Internet access, it’s about 6 in 10). Among immigrant participants, who tend to face language and literacy barriers, that figure drops to about a third.

Comparing ethnic groups, Seattle’s Latino community is the least connected, according to the larger survey, with a quarter reporting no home access:

Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report

Disabled residents face a bigger gap: 29 percent have no home Internet access.

The other dividing line is age. Thirteen percent of Seattle 36 to 50 year olds report no home Internet access. Among those 65 and older, that figure climbs to 41 percent.

Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report

Not just cost

Something odd is happening to the spread of Internet access in Seattle.

It appears to be leveling off.

The city has conducted its technology report every four years since 2000. The last four year gap — 2009 to 2013 — saw a much smaller bump in Internet adoption than previous intervals:

Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report

What’s going on?

I talked to David Keyes, the city’s community technology program director, for some perspective on the report. He pointed out something interesting.

Concerns over cost, relevance and skills remain the barriers to Internet adoption among Seattle’s disconnected.

But cost is no longer the biggest:

Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report

Questions of relevance — whether the Internet is even something people want — is now the biggest reason people give for not using or having access to the Internet.

And look at the jump in the skills barrier. In 2009, just five percent of respondents said that not knowing how to use the Internet kept them off. Now that figure’s shot up to 17 percent.

Cost is still a huge issue. Of the 66 people who answered the city’s online survey who do not have Internet access at home, 75 percent cited the cost of Internet service as a barrier. Yet it’s doubtful that better access to devices and services themselves could themselves close the gap.

What else is getting in the way?

A matter of trust?

One question in the report gives a fascinating clue.

Look at how Seattle residents responded when asked about their confidence in the security of financial transactions online, and how their responses vary according to income, age and education. Look just at the clusters on the left:

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyes/2/151/3b
https://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyes/2/151/3b
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report
Source: 2013 Seattle Technology Adoption Report

People don’t just adopt new channels based on access, utility and skill.

We do it on trust, too.

Why do fewer of our underserved neighbors trust the Internet? It’s a valuable new question to ask.

When groups of them peek online and feel like strangers, it’s not so difficult to guess at an answer.

Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.

Comments

  • http://www.pixel.io/ Allan MacKinnon

    Community Fiber in Washington, D.C., Seattle, WA, and San Francisco, CA: Developments and Lessons Learned

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2439429&download=yes

  • Salty_Swede

    “Why do fewer of our underserved neighbors trust the Internet?”

    NSA spying? Ebay and Target data breaches? iPhone tracking?
    Take your pick.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      But why do people with less education and less income mistrust online transactions more?

      • Salty_Swede

        Older people (65+) trust it less as well. Typically, when you are retired your income is lower than those working. So my guess is the retirement set is skewing the low income segment’s trust. But maybe they put in controls for that.

        Less educated segment may also be pulled down by the older segment as college degrees were not as prevalent as they are today, in say 1970. But again, maybe they put in controls for that.

      • margaret Bartley

        It’s been about a decade since kids started using the computer in school, which tends to make the internet have the authoritative crown of “acceptable”, since of the main things people learn in school is what is acceptable, and what is not. People who have not had that experience are more wary of the internet, since they are not as familiar with it.

  • RichardKLopez

    Why do fewer of our underserved neighbors trust the Internet? It’s a valuable new question to ask. http://goo.gl/gpKS7D

  • Ken

    Have they considered internet on their smartphone as an alternative? I’ve known a lot of people (including those from low income areas) with no internet at home, but are on their smartphones constantly.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Yes – that’s definitely a thing. From p. 26 of the technical report:

      “Additional analysis found that 6% of the phone survey respondents use smartphone Internet service as their only home Internet.

      This figure increases to 15% of the lowest income group and 10% of the second income group. …

      It is a challenge to infer membership in this group with confidence because some of these respondents may access the Internet on their home computer using a neighborhood wireless signal rather than a private subscription. Future studies may want to ask questions designed to identify what may be an emerging strategy for lower cost Internet access.”

  • geraldshields

    Being computer and web-savvy is just as important as being literate these days, particularly if you’re looking for a job. Almost everything is going to the web and/or to the cloud. Even having a 2nd or 3rd hand PC bought from Re-PC would be a boon.

    • UnderSerf

      Found one in a dumpster for my kid – didn’t do a thing to it (not counting endless software upgrades) and it’s been online for 4 years, plays PvZ just fine. $$$ isn’t the answer – education is. Though forcing my family to cough up 300 bucks just to stay online safely was a prime example of an income transfer scheme – if corporations like M$ can force you to spend money “upgrading” for no reason, why would it be any great stretch to imagine SOME ppl just don’t prioritize online access over religion, food, transportation and medicine? Free access wouldn’t solve the problem, unless that access were worth the effort. 1.5 megs isn’t…

  • Kary

    If it wasn’t for business use and Netflix/Amazon streaming I probably wouldn’t be paying for Internet access. I could easily see why 15% of the population wouldn’t want it, regardless of income/wealth.

  • SecretSinger

    I’d like to see a map outlining areas with high speed internet access. I think you will notice that the Central District is grossly underserved. We have no broadband (comcast) and no fiber. It’s dial up or hot spots and painfully slow.

    • Kary

      What about DSL? When I moved out of the Seattle city limits my address didn’t have DSL, but my understanding is that has now changed. We did have Comcast Internet back then though, so obviously a different area.

      • SecretSinger

        Seriously? DSL speeds are slow in the CD due to the crappy or lack of infrastructure. DSL is on par with dial-up. A hotspot is better but not much. We need high-speed Internet like other people in the city have!

        • John

          not using cable there?

          • SecretSinger

            Comcast does not service the CD and there is no infrastructure!

        • Kary

          Is that current information or information that is 10 years old? DSL speeds have generally increased, some faster than the basic Comcast speed. Stated differently, how long since you’ve personally tried it?

  • John

    While not a large portion of the city’s population I am still disheartened by the lack of Native American representation in this survey. “The Invisibles” indeed..

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