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Consumer Reports

Surge in Internet use by underserved kids | (UPI) -- Internet access among children increased 59 percent in two years, according to a report from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The biggest gains, measured between 2000 to 2002, occurred among low-income and African-American children, who still have less overall access than Caucasian and high-income children. The report looked at children's Internet use from home, school and other locations, such as libraries.

The report, "Connected to the Future," is based on data from four phone and online surveys of children aged 6 to 17 and parents of children aged 2 to 17 conducted in 2002 by Grunwald Associates and underwritten by BellSouth Corp., the Educational Testing Service and Kodak.

Peter Grunwald, president of the market research firm, told United Press International that parents of children as young as 2 years were surveyed because researchers "didn't want to pre-judge the question of when technology becomes an important part of kids' lives."

Seventy-eight percent of children aged 2 to 17 live in homes with Internet access, up nearly 70 percent since 2000. Low-income children's access grew by 96 percent, from 28 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2002. The access of African-American children grew from 19 percent to 58 percent during that time. And 50 percent of Hispanic children now can access the Internet.

However, home Internet access remained much lower for African-American and Hispanic children aged 2 to 17 than for Caucasian children. Forty-nine percent of Caucasian children have home Internet access, compared with 29 percent of African-American children and 33 percent of Hispanic children.

School Internet access improved but remained lower for minority and low-income children than Caucasian and high-income children. Less than a third of African-American, Hispanic and low-income children have school access, compared with 38 percent of Caucasian children and 47 percent of higher-income children.

The report also found that the number of hours children aged 6 to 17 spend online is approaching that spent watching television. The time children spent online each day increased from 3.1 hours in 2000 to 5.9 hours in 2002.

Preschoolers aged 2 to 5 showed the largest increase in access for any age or demographic group. Their access jumped from 6 percent in 2000 to 35 percent in 2002.

Younger children also tend to have younger parents who are more comfortable using the Internet and introduce their children to the technology earlier, Grunwald said in a phone interview.

Parents' involvement with their children's Internet use increased by almost 40 percent for children aged 9 to 17, from 13 percent to 33 percent. Eighty-one percent also said they felt that the Internet is important to their children's "academic success," the report said.

The number of households with broadband, or high-speed, connections nearly quadrupled from about 10 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2002. Children in these households spend more time online and also get better grades, say both children and parents. Twenty-three percent of children aged 6 to 17, and most parents said their children's grades improved after getting high-speed Internet access.

But high-speed access may be too expensive for low-income families and unavailable to families in underserved locations. High-speed access can cost as much as five times more than dial-up access; households with broadband had an average annual income of $72,000.

An electronic version of the report is available at

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© 2003, UPI