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Reaching Clients: How the Mobile Web Reduces the Digital Divide

The latest research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that more and more Americans are using cell phones. In 2011, 84% of U.S. adults have a cell phone compared to 55% of the same demographic who own a laptop. Additionally, the percentage of cell phone users who are turning to their mobile devices to access the Internet is on the rise. As it stands, 44% of adult cell phone users use their phone to access the Internet and 76% use their phone to send and receive e-mails.

According to a 2009 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, nearly half of all African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics are using mobile phones or other hand-held devices to surf the Web and send e-mail.  There are several reasons why mobile adoption among Blacks and Latinos is higher. Perhaps most relevant to the legal aid community, some lower-income individuals are turning to the mobile web because they perceive it as a cheaper alternative to home broadband internet access, which requires both a wire-line connection and a personal computer. When users compare the costs of home broadband to a new mobile device and data plan, the mobile web appears to be winning out as the latest 2011 statistic shows that 22% of low-income people have a smart phone (<$30k household income). Blacks and Latinos also start to use mobile devices much younger than whites, and young people have been one of the key demographics driving adoption of the mobile web.  These adoption statistics have very important implications for the legal aid community. Programs must consider increased mobile web adoption when developing strategies for reaching clients through the web. Some early mobile web adopters use the mobile web as their primary (and sometimes only) means of connecting to the Internet. 5% of all cell phone users say they use their cell phone for most of their Internet browsing and 32% of these users lack high-speed Internet access at home. Developing a mobile-optimized page helps ensure that this growing group of mobile-only Internet users is able to effectively access an organization's web-based services.