Mobile access helps agencies break past digital divide

Mobile phones may be the answer to linking federal agencies with the public.

According to a recent Pew study, almost sixty percent of adults now access the Internet wirelessly. That’s a more than 50 percent increase from 2009.

But the digital divide is still prevalent, and federal agencies are struggling with the best way to reach out to all citizens, even those who don’t normally access the Internet at home.

Aaron Smith, a research specialist at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, says the answer may be mobile.

“Mobile access is the new distinguishing characteristic of the web,” says Smith. “We talked about the digital divide for so long. Mobile is the way to cross this bridge.”

Smith says that for people who don’t access the Internet at home, smartphone use may help close the gap between the digital divide.

“I think mobile is playing a key role in bridging those gaps between people who have that broadband connection at home and people that don’t. It really gives people an economically viable opportunity to tap into the online world that they wouldn’t normally have,” Smith says.

According to the study, minority Americans, specifically African Americans, are the handiest when it comes to mobile use.

Smith says while the study shows that only 40 percent of Americans in 2010 use a smartphone, that number will increase exponentially over the years. And reaching out to mobile users, he says, gives agencies a direct link to different groups of people that normally don’t have access to the Internet at home.

“When you compare the mobile Internet population to the overall Internet population, there’s two things that are apparent: the first is that the mobile Internet population is becoming to look more like the population as a whole, but you’re also reaching young adults, African Americans, and lower-income folks, that may not be as active in other realms of the online world,” says Smith.

For example, says Smith, 95 percent of young adult 18 to 29 years old send text messages. Mobile use in older adults, however, has grown the fastest. Compared with 2009, cell phone owners ages 30 to 49 are significantly more likely to use their mobile device to send text messages, access the Internet, take pictures, record videos, use email or instant messaging, and play music.

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