There are a lot of “brothers and sisters” living here in Georgia, and the Georgia Public Service Commission rule imposing a five dollar monthly fee on recipients of free cell phones through the Lifeline program could have a disproportionate impact on blacks in Georgia, particularly as internet access and broadband adoption are concerned.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.2% of Georgia’s residents are black, more than double the percentage of all Americans. Nationwide, 80% of black adults use the internet, according to a report issued yesterday by the Pew Research Council. This compares with 87% of white adults that travel the information superhighway.
The gap is wider when you compare broadband adoption at home between blacks and whites. Sixty-two percent of black adults have broadband internet access at home versus 74% of white adults, according to Pew.
The picture levels somewhat when considering wireless access to broadband internet. According to Pew’s findings, 92% of blacks and 90% of whites own cell phones. Ironically in households where income is under $30,000, 90% of black adults own a cell phone while 82% of adult whites in these households own a cell phone. Black adults edge out white adults in smart phone ownership, with 56% of black adults owning a smart phone compared to 53% of white adults. In addition, 10% of black adults indicate that while they have no broadband connection at home, they connect to the internet via their smart phones.
According to data from the Kaiser Foundation, 35% of blacks nationwide live in poverty. In Georgia, that percentage rate is 33%. In its federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Georgia PSC’s rule, the CTIA cited a position taking by the Federal Communications Commission on imposing a minimum fee on Georgia Lifeline recipients:
“The FCC found that a minimum charge could potentially discourage consumers from enrolling in the program and could result in current Lifeline subscribers leaving the program.”
If we assume a close relationship between national data on adoption of broadband and internet access by blacks with Georgia’s black residents, a minimum charge would have a negative impact on broadband adoption and continued internet access by blacks in Georgia. This means reduced access to mobile wireless health services and employment opportunities for a significant portion of Georgia’s black population.
In an economy that is not yet fully employing its labor resources, reducing access to broadband by continuing to impose this fee would be devastating to blacks.