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Handheld Device Ownership: Reducing the Digital Divide?

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Working Paper Number SEHSD-2017-04


In the United States, there is a persistent digital divide, or gulf between those who have and lack ready access to computers and the Internet. The potential for smartphones and mobile broadband to reduce the digital divide is quite promising, as groups with lower rates of access overall—including racial/ethnic minorities and low-income households—are more likely to own a handheld device only. This technology further has the potential to bolster access in underserved geographic areas including rural areas and poorer urban neighborhoods. However, those who access the Internet only through their phones have more tenuous access than those with more options. In this paper, I used data from the 2015 1-year American Community Survey (ACS) to look closely at current handheld device ownership. A key strength of the ACS is its large sample, enabling analysis of smaller population subgroups and sub-state geographies. First, I examined demographic, economic, and geographic characteristics related to handheld device ownership. In addition to looking at descriptive statistics on bivariate relationships, I conducted logistic regression to investigate the characteristics of two groups: 1) households that own a handheld device, and 2) households that own a handheld device only. Second, I assessed the geography of handheld ownership, looking at the Atlanta and Washington, DC metro areas and Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) within the Atlanta and DC areas. PUMAs are built on Census tracts and counties, and allow comparisons between more rural and urban areas as well as within urban areas. I conclude by discussing the implications of handheld device ownership for reducing the digital divide, considering differences in the capabilities of handheld versus conventional devices.

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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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