Nearly half of Hidalgo County households have a home computer and more than 75 percent of those home computer owners are connected to the Internet, according to a recent survey by the Center for Survey Research at The University of Texas-Pan American.
However, Mexican-American households in Hidalgo County are less likely than Anglo households to have a computer, 40 percent to 60 percent, respectively. There also are similar ethnic differences in computer use at school and public libraries, but not in the workplace.
Overall, Hidalgo County computer use mirrors the rest of the country, based on a recent national study.
"The Rio Grande Valley seems very representative of the 'wired' national community," said Dr. Robert D. Wrinkle, director of the Center for Survey Research and political science professor. "Some might have expected Valley households to lag further behind the national averages, but instead, they are quite close to national norms."
Of Hidalgo County households with a computer, most have more than one computer, though there is also widespread use at work, school and public libraries, primarily for Internet access.
More than 90 percent of the county's Internet home connections are with a national provider, the survey found.
A majority of Internet use is for e-mail, schoolwork and hobbies. About 47 percent of households use e-mail frequently or daily, compared to nearly 43 percent for research related to school or hobbies.
By comparison, a recent national survey by The Pew Internet and American Life Project found 56 percent of all adults have Internet access, with 16 million new users going online in just the last six months of 2000. Forty-five percent of all children under 18 have access, or more than 30 million.
There are disparities in income and age, though. An estimated 82 percent of households with more than $75,000 annual income now have Internet access, according to the survey, but only 38 percent for households earning less than $30,000. Also, 75 percent of people age 18-29 have access, compared to 15 percent for those 65 and older.
The Hidalgo County computer and Internet use survey was conducted for the UTPA Cross Border Institute for Regional Development (CBIRD). CBIRD is a strategic effort designed to strengthen infrastructures, create new technologies and build public-private partnerships benefiting the U.S.-Mexico border region.
Among its activities is a knowledge-based benchmarking of Hidalgo County, which is being done with the support of a federal Economic Development Agency grant. This benchmarking will assess assets and challenges relative to the development and sustainability of a technology and knowledge-based economy for the county and the region, said Dr. Gerald D. Brazier, CBIRD program coordinator.
Part of this benchmarking involves applying the Computer Systems Policy Project's (CSPP) Readiness Guide for Living in the Networked World to Hidalgo County.
The guide describes various levels of readiness and outlines how a community could go about assessing where it stands relative to the networked world of computing and the Internet. Aspects of the guide measure network infrastructure, computer and network access, applications and services available electronically, and the level at which the local economy functions on the web.
As such, this survey is part of CSPP protocol implementation, Brazier said. Future project steps include gathering information about computing, network infrastructure and Internet use from local businesses, governments and schools.
The Hidalgo County computer and Internet use survey is part of an ongoing survey series by the UTPA Center for Survey Research, a unit of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Called "The Pulse of the Valley," the series is designed to inform Rio Grande Valley communities of attitudes on various issues.
The phone survey of 647 Hidalgo County residents was conducted Feb. 5-11 by the Center for Survey Research. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent. Slightly more than 15 percent of people contacted refused interviews, which were done in both English and Spanish.