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Exploring the Digital Nation - Computer and Internet Use at Home

Executive Summary

This report updates and expands last year’s report, Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States, based on data from the Census Bureau’s most recent Current Population Survey (CPS) School Enrollment and Internet Use Supplement. The report also provides additional information augmenting the February 2011 research preview, Digital Nation: Expanding Internet Usage, and includes new findings on computer and Internet use in the United States. For example, we use regression analysis to help explain some of the disparities in broadband Internet adoption that exist between demographic and geographic groups. The analysis reveals that, by holding constant certain factors such as household income, education, or age, the adoption disparities may decrease significantly.

Below is a summary of our final review of the 2010 CPS results. These findings may assist policymakers as they consider ways to promote broadband deployment and adoption in the United States.

  • As of October 2010, more than 68 percent of households used broadband Internet access service, up from 64 percent one year earlier (Section 1, Figure 1). Approximately 80 percent of households had at least one Internet user, either at home or elsewhere (Section 3.1, Figure 3).
  • Cable modem (32 percent) and DSL (23 percent) ranked as the most commonly used broadband technologies (Section 3.1, Figure 3). Other technologies, including mobile broadband, fiber optics, and satellite services, accounted for a small, but growing, segment of households with broadband Internet access service.
  • Dial-up use at home – the preferred form of residential Internet access through the mid 2000s – continued to decline from five percent in October 2009 to three percent one year later (Section 3.1, Figure 3).
  • Over three-fourths (77 percent) of households had a computer – the principal means by which households access the Internet – compared with 62 percent in 2003 (Section 1, Figure 1). Low computer use correlates with low broadband adoption rates.
  • Broadband Internet adoption, as well as computer use, varied across demographic and geographic groups. Lower income families, people with less education, those with disabilities, Blacks, Hispanics, and rural residents generally lagged the national average in both broadband adoption and computer use. For example, home broadband adoption and computer use stood at only 16 percent and 27 percent, respectively, among rural households headed by a Black householder without a high school diploma (Section 4.2, Table 4). Also, households with school-age children exhibited higher broadband adoption and computer use rates than other households (Section 4.1, Figure 7).
  • The differences in socio-economic attributes do not entirely explain why some groups lagged in adoption. Broadband Internet adoption disparities decrease when regression analysis holds constant certain household characteristics, such as income, education, race, ethnicity, foreign-born status, household composition, disability status, or geographic location. For example, the gap with respect to broadband Internet adoption associated with disabilities decreases from 29 to six percentage points when controlling for income, education, age, and other attributes (Section 4.3, Figure 18).
  • The most important reasons households without broadband Internet or dial-up service gave for not subscribing were: (1) lack of need or interest (47 percent); (2) lack of affordability (24 percent); and (3) inadequate computer (15 percent) (Section 5, Figure 19).
  • Households reporting affordability as the major barrier to subscribing to broadband service cited both the fixed cost of purchasing a computer and the recurring monthly subscription costs as important factors (Section 5, Figure 21). Our analysis of the expanded CPS data suggests that work, school, public libraries, and someone else’s house were all popular alternatives for Internet access among those with no home broadband Internet access service (Section 6, Figure 23). Not surprisingly, individuals with no home broadband Internet access service relied on locations such as public libraries (20 percent) or other people’s houses (12 percent) more frequently than those who used broadband Internet access service at home.

(NOTE: If not printing in color, select the "grayscale" printer setting to ensure graphics clarity when you print out the Digital Nation report.)

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