Internet Access in America: Who’s Got It, Who Needs It?

Half the adults in the US do not have Internet access, according to research conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and it is true the members of this group are less well-off financially and are likely to be minorities.

Nearly 80 percent of those who live in households earning more than $75,000 have Internet access, but just 31 percent of those who live in households earning less than $30,000 have access. Non-Internet users are also less likely to be employed than Internet users. Forty-two percent of those not online have full-time jobs and 9 percent have part-time jobs, compared to 66 percent full time and 14 percent part time for Internet users.

The Pew data also found income plays more of a role in Internet access than race. While 50 percent of whites have Internet access, compared to 36 percent of blacks, and 44 percent of Hispanics, relatively well-to-do members of each group are online at roughly the same rate. Nearly 80 percent (78 percent) of whites in households earning more than $75,000 are online, compared with 79 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of blacks in similar economic situations.

Those not online in the US also tend to be less educated, older, and a resident of a rural area, the research found.

Other findings from the Pew data include:

  • 57 percent of non-Internet users are not interested in getting online
  • 32 percent of those without Internet access now say they definitely will not get Internet access, and another 25 percent of non-Internet users say they probably will not venture online
  • 12 percent of those without Internet access say that they definitely will go online, while 29 percent of non-Internet users say they probably will get Internet access
  • 14 percent of those without Internet access have computers
  • 13 percent of those who do not use the Internet have used it in the past and stopped.

The Gartner Group’s “Digital Divide and American Society” report found that half of American households have Internet access, and by 2005, that number will reach 75 percent. But despite a strong economy, less-expensive PCs, and strong Internet growth, a Digital Divide remains. To fix this, Gartner Group suggests the government must play a more active role.

Speaking at the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, Gartner Group CEO Michael Fleisher said the government needs to encourage business strategies that narrow the gap between Internet haves and have-nots. This can be done, he said, with tax credits for providing Internet access to employees and telecommuting.

Gartner’s report lists three major factors that prolong the Digital Divide in the US:

  1. Access to the Internet in the Home
    While half of US households have Internet access, the penetration rate differs based on socioeconomic status, a combination of household income and education level. Gartner found that 35 percent of the lowest socioeconomic status Americans have Internet access, compared to 53 percent in the lower-middle socioeconomic bracket, 79 percent in the upper-middle bracket and 83 percent in the highest socioeconomic bracket.
  2. The Broadband Divide
    While Gartner predicts Internet penetration will surpass 75 percent of US households by 2005, another divide exists with more expensive broadband access. According to Fleisher, “This will be the equivalent to having the moderate and upper classes in IMAX theatres, while the underprivileged are still watching silent movies.”
  3. The Experience Divide
    Once online, users have a ramp-up period of several years, according to Gartner, until they fully reap the benefits of the Internet.

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