Bridging the Digital Divide?

Aug 19, 2004

By David Morse

It’s been awhile since the Clinton Administration declared war on the digital divide, but it’s still alive and well in America.

According to Jupiter Research, only 54% of African American and 57% of Hispanic households are online, compared to 71% of Caucasian households. Numbers from a recent Synovate study show the Hispanic number to be about half that amount.

America Online is hoping to change all that. The company has just announced plans to offer a low-cost PC, at Office Depot stores, for $299.99 with a 12-month commitment to its high-end $23.90 monthly dial-up service. That brings the total bill to $586.79, still below the price tag of many low-end systems.

AOL hopes to roll the promotion out to some undisclosed retailers in the near future.

The new PC has a bilingual interface, making it easy on households with bilingual kids, and adults who speak little or no English.

AOL already claims to have captured 40% of the Hispanic market, since launching AOL Latino last October. The service offers prepaid phone cards, money transfers, immigration information, a sports channel highlighting soccer and boxing, and an entertainment section featuring Latin artists.

Said David Wellisch, AOL Latino vice president and general manager, “The opportunity is very sizable. As more Hispanics come online, that presents a very interesting opportunity for online advertisers.”

AOL plans to launch a service targeting African American consumers, called Black Voices, in September.

Moderator’s Comment: Are we about to see a closing
of the digital divide? Will new technologies become an effective tool in ethnic
marketing? Will on-line advertising become a viable means of reaching these
consumers in the short term?

AOL Latino’s own research certainly concludes this. Its
U.S. Hispanic Cyberstudy, released in April, showed that 42% of Hispanic online
consumers had Internet access for less than two years, compared to 15% of the
general online population. And over half of offline Hispanics said the reason
they are not online is because they’ve heard there is too little Spanish content
online. A perception that sites like AOL Latino, Yahoo en Español, Terra
and Univision have been trying to correct.

David Morse – Moderator

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