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E-Gov't Growing, Phone Still Preferred

  |  May 24, 2004   |  Comments

Those who interact with some level of government are more comfortable using non-electronic communication methods, particularly if the reason for contact is complex or urgent.

E-government adoption is on the upswing, but the telephone remains the preferred communication tool for contacting government offices. While the Pew Internet & American Life Project revealed that more than three-quarters of Internet users contacted the government in the last year, nearly twice as many survey respondents said they preferred to use the phone over the Web site, and email only ranked just slightly better than traditional mail.

Means of Contacting Government
Method Last Contact Preferred Contact
Telephone 42% 40%
Web site 29% 24%
In-person 20% 13%
E-mail 18% 11%
Letter 17% 10%
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

The survey of nearly 3,000 individuals (including almost 1,900 Internet users) conducted by Princeton Research Associates during the summer of 2003 revealed an upward trend in e-government usage. In 2000, 47 percent of Internet users sought information via a state, local, or federal government Web site, compared to 56 percent in 2002, and finally, 77 percent in 2003.

John Horrigan, senior research specialist for Pew Internet & American Life Project, says that growth in the overall Internet is probably a minor factor in e-government usage growth, citing a combination of other elements that are likely to have motivated adoption.

"...I have no trouble thinking the increasing supply and improving quality of e-gov sites has encouraged use of e-gov by Americans," Horrigan cites as reasons for adoption, adding that online experience and broadband growth also contribute.

"...the longer people have been online, the more comfortable they are with reasonably sophisticated online activities, particularly ones that require trust. This fits the bill for some e-gov applications, such as renewing driver's licenses online," says Horrigan.

Horrigan continues, "There has been a rapid increase in home broadband penetration in the past few years, and the fast, 'always on' connection encourages people to use the Internet more. That may explain some of the growth in e-gov by users."

Despite the advantage broadband users have in performing some online activities, the report found that even those with high-speed access were more likely to phone a government office than use an electronic method.

Preferred Means of Contacting Government
Among Internet Users
Method Dial-Up Users Broadband Users
Telephone 41% 33%
Web site 27% 36%
In-person 12% 8%
E-mail 12% 17%
Letter 6% 6%
Note: Dial-up = 1,253; Broadband = 429
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

Of the 54 percent of Americans who contacted the government in the last year, phone or in-person visits were preferred over Web and email, 53 percent vs. 37 percent. Preferred contact method also depends on the severity of the situation, Pew found, as people are more likely to call or visit a government office if the problem is complex or urgent.

While the telephone has the edge as the preferred method of contact, Internet users are actually three times as likely as non-Internet users to get in touch with government.

Popular E-Government Activities
(percent of those accessing a local, state or federal
government Web site for a specific reason)
Looked for Information 66%
Done research involving official statistics or documents 41%
Recreational or tourist information 34%
Advice about a health or safety issue 28%
Sent email 27%
Gotten information or applied for benefits 23%

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