It's largely been known that race plays a role in who has access to the Internet. A new study suggests income and age might play even bigger roles. Among lower-income African-Americans, smartphones are often a way to make up for not having a broadband connection at home.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports that that might not be enough.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: African-Americans who are young and college-educated are on the same footing as whites when it comes to getting online: 86 percent of 18-29-year-olds have broadband at home. African-Americans are using smartphones at the same rate as whites - 56 percent - regardless of income.

But Aaron Smith, who did the study for the Pew Research Center, says using a mobile device as a primary means of accessing the Internet has drawbacks. There's a lot you can't do on a smartphone.

AARON SMITH: For instance, you know, distance learning or filling out job applications. Those may be much more difficult to do on a smartphone than on a more traditional device.

SYDELL: But according to Smith, on the lower end of the economic spectrum, blacks trail whites when it comes to Internet access by about seven percentage points. Smith says that's a growing problem in a world in where an Internet connection is key for everything, from accessing education to getting government services.

SMITH: So, to the extent that this particular group that has a very strong need for some of those services is much less likely to be online, I think that's a very relevant finding for, you know, policymakers, nonprofits and other people who are seeking to serve that community.

SYDELL: Ultimately, Smith says the biggest takeaway for him from the study is that class trumps race when it comes to Internet access.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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