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Latinos Closing Digital Divide, Poll Shows

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study out Thursday shows Latinos are closing the digital divide -- and cell phones are the device of choice helping them do it.

The report released by the Pew Research Hispanic Center found that, in just three years, the gap between whites' and Latinos' use of Internet closed by half.

In 2009, only 64 percent of Hispanics used the Internet, compared to 72 percent of blacks and 80 percent of whites. In 2012 Hispanics matched blacks in usage at 78 percent, while whites slightly increased to 87 percent.

"These are trends we've been following for a while," said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "Some of the biggest gains that were made, particularly in Internet use among Latinos were among foreign-born and among Spanish-dominant Latinos who had very low usage rates just a few years ago."

Most Latino Internet users depend on their mobile devices rather than desktops and laptops, when accessing the Internet -- 76 percent, versus 60 percent of whites.

Hispanics and blacks outpaced whites in cell phone ownership at 86 percent, 90 percent and 78 percent, respectively.

It is a trend that could be explained, in part, by Pew's findings that Latinos lag whites when it comes to desktop and laptop ownership (72 percent Hispanics vs. 83 percent whites) and nearly half (47 percent) of Latino adults live in cell-phone-only households. Comparatively, 38 percent of blacks and 30 percent of whites don't have a landline, a trend that has grown significantly since 2004 when only 6 percent of Hispanics, 4 percent of blacks and 4 percent of whites did not have one.

While Spanish-dominant and foreign-born Latinos have helped close the gap in Internet use, when it comes to social media, most (60 percent) who are tweeting and Facebooking are doing it in English, and at rates similar to other groups.

"It is interesting that, when it comes to social media, English is the dominant language," Lopez said.

He added that it probably has to do with the large, young generation present in the Latino community.

"Many Latinos are young and most likely to adopt those technologies first," he said, citing Pew's findings that those households with children under 18 are more likely to use newer technologies than those without children.

"[It] may be having spillover effects, but we don't know," Lopez said. "What's interesting about this is this a reflection of the relative use of [the] Latino community and also suggests that when it comes to a lot of newer technology Latinos are adopting them at similar rates to those of other groups. So as technology becomes more important, this may actually be an important phenomenon for Latinos moving forward."

Elianne Ramos, who is principal at Speak Hispanic Communications and had no part in the Pew research, said that the use of cell phones for Internet use could also be attributed to the lack of access for home Internet connectivity.

"One lifeline is the cell phone," she said. People may be "using it to access the Internet [because] it is their only connection to the online world."

In today's Hispanic culture, most are Internet consumers, Ramos said, adding that this study will be important to look toward the future as they become creators. "What mobile's doing is it's changing the nature of the divide from being about access to being about quality," she said. "The hope is more people will start becoming content creators instead of consumers. ... Now, we are kind of playing catch up [and] starting to get access, but we still don't have the training."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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