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Broadband: Exploring the Demographic Patterns

June 8, 2012 - 4 Comments

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

Broadband wireless technology has no doubt had an impact on enterprise productivity — the ability for companies to provide anytime, anywhere access to both data and colleagues means faster response time and the competitive advantage that brings.

But we sometimes focus more on the corporate impact than the impact it has on personal lives as well — and not just the ability of teenagers to text or celebrities to tweet.

That’s why the confluence of two unrelated reports issued in April bring encouraging news. They tie together two demographic patterns that can ultimately lead to broadband providing better health care among under-served demographics.

Differences Among Demographic Groups

Let’s start with the Pew Internet Project (PIP) report entitled Digital Differences. PIP has been conducting surveys for several years focused on who’s doing what with mobile connectivity, and this report – among other results – shows an interesting trend that originally appeared in the 2010 report on the same topic: the increased use of smartphones among minorities.

According to the survey findings, black and Hispanic users of cell phones use those phones’ features more frequently than whites by a statistically significant higher percentage in almost every category (see chart, Cell Phone Activities by Race/Ethnicity).

In fact, in only three categories — text messaging, taking pictures, and sending photos or videos — were the results for black users not higher by statistically significant rate; in all categories, Hispanics’ usage rates were higher.

Cell Phones Activities by Race/Ethnicity

% of American adult cell phone owners who do the following activities with their cell phone (May 2011)

White Black Hispanic
Send or receive text messages 70 76 83*
Take a picture 71 70 79*
Access the Internet 39 56* 51*
Send a photo or video 52 58 61*
Send or receive email 34 46* 43*
Download an app 28 36* 36*
Play a game 31 43* 40*
Play music 27 45* 47*
Record a video 30 41* 42*
Assess a social networking site 25 39* 35*

Source: Pew Internet Project, Digital Differences, April 2012

These results reveal the trend toward a post-PC world among specific demographics. They’ve avoided desktop computing for whatever reason — cost, Internet access, complexity — and found their digital superhighway through different devices.

Mobile Broadband and People of Color

Now let’s map those results to those found in a report issued by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies entitled Minorities, Mobile Broadband and the Management of Chronic Diseases. Besides citing Pew survey results from previous years, it cited its own survey results substantiating the Pew study: “People of color lead the way in mobile access, especially using handheld devices … [N]early two-thirds of African Americans (64%) and Latinos (63%) are wireless Internet users, and minority Americans are significantly more likely to own a cell phone than their white counterparts (87% of blacks and Hispanics own a cell phone, compared to 80% of whites).”

From the standpoint of healthcare, the report also noted:

Chronic diseases disproportionately burden many communities of color. African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders generally face higher morbidity and mortality than whites across a range of chronic diseases such as asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. At the same time, many minorities face geographic, financial, cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing high quality primary and preventive health care, as well as to specialty treatment. Given the growing proportion of people of color in the U.S. population, it is especially important that we find new ways to help prevent and manage chronic diseases in minority communities.

So then the question becomes, as the report states, how can the health care community harness “the proliferation of mobile broadband technologies, telemedicine and online health applications to help communities of color — and the health professionals who serve them — access information and tools that can help them more effectively prevent, diagnose and manage disease.”

It cites a variety of mobile and remote tools to not only help practitioners diagnose problems (similar to those Cisco cites on Care-At-a-Distance), but also put more information into the hands of patients. The value is clear, especially to minority communities that are geographically distant from health care facilities and without public transportation.

Also, because some minorities avoid asking questions during doctor’s visits, such tools can provide information easily. It’s a win-win situation all around.

The Joint Center report concludes with a list of policy recommendations that relate to political, social, and technological issues. They include:

  • Expand the availability of primary care physicians in unserved and underserved areas.
  • Ensure universal access to mobile broadband for households in both unserved and underserved areas.
  • Reform regulatory barriers that limit the use of nontraditional medical treatment.
  • Create incentives for physicians to use mobile broadband-enabled technologies for current and preventative care.
  • Promote the meaningful use requirements for Electronic Health Records (EHRs) established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
  • Promote standards in the Meaningful Use program to require EHRs support patient access to their medical information.
  • Avoid excessive and regressive taxation on wireless goods and services.
  • Promote consumer education and awareness.

Having evidence of these two trends — increased mobile usage among minorities and better remote diagnostic tools — in hand, the chance exists for using wireless broadband to bring about real improvements in health care among communities that have long needed them.

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  1. Howard, Compelling stats and thanks for the article. Would be usefil to know the difference in time and money spent by demographics. Most wired access is unlimited, whereas the carriers have implemented onerous bandwidth caps. The wired internet is still much faster and when I have a choice, I am far more productive on a wired broadband link. Mobile broadband is hit or miss and most often speeds equal those of wireline from 10+ years ago. Looked at this way, the digital divide may not be narrowing as much as a quick glance would suggest. Nonetheless, any access is better than none. I am concerned policy makers and monopolists will point to the PEW data and suggest that we are making substantial progress. Michael

    • @Michael, thank you for sharing your perspective on this topic. You said, "any access is better than none." Agreed, but if a nation really intends to compete effectively in the Global Networked Economy, then the bar of expectations must be raised. Reaching parity with leading the markets (similar peer regions, cities, communities) in other parts of the world is perhaps the best approach.

      • David, Arguably we were ahead 10 years ago, but the remonopolization brought on by the Telecom Act of 1996, ClEC boom/bust (vertical me-too competitive models don't work; for that matter no vertical models work as nothing scales horizontally), death of equal access in 2004, muni-wifi bust, wimax bust and BTOP crowding out have all but killed any chance of competitive providers getting funded. The only hope we have is the second coming of equal access credited to Steve jobs in 2007 (aka the smartphone's 802.11 backdoor access). Seriously though, parity is surely not a choice! Parity didn't give us MSFT, Cisco, Apple, Amazon, E-bay, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.... With bandwith 20-150x overpriced something's gotta give though in the next 1-5 years. Michael

        • @Michael, understood. All good points to consider in a globally competitve market comparison. FYI, I believe that peer-level market comparisons are useful is because they can become the basis of a reasonable expectation to raise the bar. As an example, it would be reasonable for a service provider customer in New York City to anticipate that one day they may have broadband access parity (with a similar Mbps and price point) to Seoul or Tokyo.