The Young and the Web-less

25 percent of kids have cell phones, but 25 percent of Chicagoans have no Internet

By Matt Bartosik
|  Wednesday, Aug 5, 2009  |  Updated 3:30 PM CDT
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The Young and the Web-less

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While just about everyone has a cell phone these days, including our kids, a lot of Chicagoans still don't have Internet access, according to a recent study.

Nowadays, everyone has a cell phone, including pre-teens.

According to national data from Chicago-based C&R Research, 26 percent of children ages 8 to 11 carry cell phones, up from just 7 percent in 2003. And the percentage of children 12 to 14 with their own cell phones nearly tripled, rising from 21 percent to 58 percent.

But while kids use the phones to keep in touch with friends (and to keep up with popular trends), parents often buy their children cell phones for a more practical reason: security.

"My parents got it for safety," 16-year-old Wes Robledo of Lafayette told the Chicago Tribune. He got his cell phone when he was 12. "I wanted one because my brother had one."

By buying phones, parents ensure the kids can contact Mom and Dad, and vice versa.

Good thing, too, because email just isn't an option: Chicagoans might be cell-friendly, but they're not so good with the Internets.

According to a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll, 40 percent of Chicago residents have little to no Web access. Specifically, 25 percent are completely offline and 15 percent have limited Internet access.

In response to the results, Mayor Daley announced that four underserved neighborhoods (Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood and Pilsen) will receive free wireless broadband access and better community technology centers, using federal stimulus money and donations from Microsoft, the MacArthur Foundation, and other organizations.

There may, however, be one flaw with the study.

The report, "Digital Excellence in Chicago: A City-Wide View of Internet Use," is based on a random-sample telephone survey of 3,453 Chicago residents age 18 and older. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish in June and July of 2008.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, half of all adults ages 18-30 use their cell phone exclusively or "mostly" (i.e., they have a landline but rarely use it). A third of adults aged 30-44 also fall into this category.

Pollsters can call cell phones, but they rarely do because of a few restrictions. Federal law prohibits the use of automated dialing systems, so if pollsters want to call cell phones, they have to do it by hand, a cumbersome task when calling thousands of residents. Also, cell phone owners are often reluctant to respond to polling questions because they have to pay for the air time. In some areas, pollsters are required by law to provide compensation for that air time, so some pollsters find it better to simply exclude cell phones from their call list.

It's not too far of a stretch to assume that those who use their cell phones exclusively are more likely to use the Internet heavily. If the study excluded cell phone users from their call list, their results may be skewed, as it leaves out a large percentage of Internet-savvy Chicagoans.

Matt Bartosik, a "between blogs" blogger, uses his cell phone exclusively.

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