Assessing the effect of unrestricted home Internet access on the underserved community: A case study of four east central Florida families
Melinda Carien Bier, Florida Institute of Technology, United States
Doctor of Philosophy, Florida Institute of Technology . Awarded
Building on previous studies of Internet use by specific sectors of American society (Gallo & Horton, 1994; Gallo, Barry, Rose, & Perlman, 1995) this study asked how a group of low-income "informationally disadvantaged" families would make use of unlimited home Internet access. This study investigated how much time participants spent online, what activities they engaged in while online, what factors influenced their use of home Internet access, and what problems families encountered in their efforts.
The study is grounded in the naturalistic research perspective with its characteristic focus on in-depth contextual description and prolonged engagement. The study was initiated with a purposive sample of six families, four of whom became the primary respondents and remained engaged with the project for more than one year beginning in November of 1994. Each family was provided with a home computer including software and modem, Internet access, training, and ongoing technical support for the duration of the research. The study design included a four month period of prior ethnography during which parents received training in the basics of computer operation and Internet navigation. Formal data were collected over a six-month period beginning in February of 1995. Data collection took the form of ethnographic interviews including weekly interviews with individual participants and monthly group interviews. Interview based evidence was triangulated with data extracted from participant logs, journals, and computer documented statistics of participants' Internet use.
The findings of this study support claims for the beneficial effects of NII access and use on low-income families. Findings contradict some salient aspects of previous studies investigating the use of home information technology by privileged families (Giacquinta, Bauer, & Levin, 1994; Silverstone & Hirsh, 1992; Gallo, Barry, Rose, & Perlman, 1995). Findings are consistent, however, with the results emerging from current studies of telecommunication use by disadvantaged populations (Anderson, Bikeson, Law, & Mitchell, 1995; NTIA, 1995) which conclude that disadvantaged populations use access to electronic mail and information services to mediate some of the negative circumstances of their lives.
Bier, M.C. Assessing the effect of unrestricted home Internet access on the underserved community: A case study of four east central Florida families. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Florida Institute of Technology.
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