In a mailed survey of 484 Tacoma residents, almost all — 94 percent — said they have access to technology in their homes. Of those, 77 percent have a computer and a smartphone at home.
Those numbers look pretty glowing, said city IT director Jack Kelanic and the team who helped conduct the 2016 residential technology access survey.
But if you drill down, there are disparities: Older people are less likely to have technology at home and to feel comfortable using it. Black and Hispanic residents are less likely to have access to the internet at home, as are people who live in the Hilltop: “Nearly all residents have access to devices and internet services — we see that libraries provide a very valued service in this community,” Kelanic told the City Council at a study session Tuesday. “But once you get behind those topline numbers, we see there are some inequities … we see them with our seniors, in racial and ethnic minority communities, specifically African-American and Latino communities, and we see them in specific neighborhoods — the Hilltop stands out more than the East Side.”
Hilltop residents tended to be less satisfied with the technology they have in their homes, according to the results. And as income goes down, people tend to own fewer devices.
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Kelanic, as well as researcher Elizabeth Moore of Applied Inference and Andrew Gordon from the University of Washington Evans School of Public Affairs, offered suggestions on how to close the gap for the technology have-nots: ensuring that residents know about low-cost options for accessing the internet, providing ways to get low-cost personal computers and adding more publicly accessible computers at libraries.
The survey had another key finding: 95 percent of respondents supported the city’s involvement in helping residents access to technology, and 85 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that the city should take steps to increase high-speed internet access for households without it.
Thirteen percent of respondents in the Hilltop said they lack home internet, double the rate of respondents citywide.
“Residents are very supportive of equitable access in the community and believe the city has a role to play as a leader and as a facilitator,” Kelanic said.
In 2015, the City Council voted down a proposal to lease the city’s Click Cable TV network to a private company, and directed Tacoma Power to develop a business plan for keeping Click publicly owned and operated, saying that would help keep it affordable.
The Tacoma Public Utilities board in September approved a plan to expand Click into internet and phone service, in part to stem decreasing numbers of cable customers.
That plan awaits a City Council vote.
On Tuesday, council members seized on the survey results as proof that residents want to keep Click in public hands.
“This really actually begins to paint a concrete picture about why investing in our Click network is so important,” said Councilman Marty Campbell.
Citywide, about 55 percent of respondents said they use Comcast to get internet. But of Hilltop respondents, only 23 percent are using Comcast and 34 percent said they’re getting internet through one of the smaller internet service providers that lease space on Click’s wires.
“What this says is really what we’re doing as a city is we are leading in those neighborhoods,” Campbell said. “Continued investments are well worthwhile.”
Other noteworthy findings: Parents of children in Tacoma Public Schools are three times more likely to use free Wi-Fi services and three times more likely to have no internet access at all, Kelanic said.