How the Verizon-AOL deal could help more minorities get high-speed internet


Today, Verizon announced it would purchase AOL for $4.4 billion.

AOL is no longer the old “You’ve Got Mail” AOL. It now owns The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and most importantly for Verizon, a robot advertisement placement company, which is its fastest-growing segment.

But the world will pretty much always know AOL for giving us our first taste of the Internet through dial-up.

As it turns out, approximately 3 percent of the population — nearly 9 million Americans — are still living in that era, mostly because they live in rural areas or because they can’t afford it.

Both of those things tend to correlate to minorities, which helps explain why, according to a Pew survey from 2009, 30 percent of those remaining dial-up users were black or Hispanics.

Blacks comprised 17 percent of all dial-up users, compared with 8 percent of broadband users. Hispanics comprised 12 percent of the former and 13 percent of the latter, Pew found.

Troublingly, Pew found minorities “were more likely to see a lack of broadband access as a major hindrance to accomplishing numerous tasks” like finding out about job opportunities or learning career skills.

And that’s probably why they were more likely than any other demographic to say expanding broadband should be a top priority of the government, according to a 2010 survey.

It’s likely these numbers have improved somewhat since 2009, although it doesn’t appear by much: A 2013 Census survey found 40 percent of African-American households, and 34 percent of Hispanic ones, didn’t have high-speed Internet at home, although Pew has found that these groups have compensated with mobile use.

AOL alone still has 2.1 million dial-up subscribers, according to its most recent earnings report.

But here’s the good news: Those numbers are falling, and the Verizon deal is likely to cause the trend to accelerate: In January, Bloomberg’s Alex Sherman and Scott Moritz wrote that AOL is “winding down that business” and that “If Verizon acquired the New York-based company, it could continue that process and convert some of those customers to its FiOS broadband service,” citing a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

The government continues to pour money into a program for expanding broadband for low-income households, though National Journal says the Federal Communications Commission plan has faced charges of fraud and abuse even from its supporters.

So if this merger can help shoulder some of that burden, minorities will be very well served by it.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.

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