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NTIA Shares Insights on Internet Research at TPRC

September 29, 2016 by John B. Morris, Jr., Associate Administrator, Office of Policy Analysis and Development

Tomorrow, policy staff from NTIA will be participating in an annual policy research conference where they will be discussing important research about Americans’ computer and Internet use habits. They will be presenting two working papers at the 44th Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy (TPRC), an annual conference on information, communications, and technology policy, which brings together researchers, policymakers, and advocates from the public, academic, and private sectors. These papers shed light on important policy issues relying on data collected though NTIA’s Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS Supplement).

In the first working paper, Trust in Internet Privacy and Security and Online Activity, NTIA staff used data from the most recent CPS Supplement, which included questions on household privacy and security concerns, to identify certain indicators of distrust in security online. Their analysis reveals that Internet-using households with either serious concerns with Internet privacy or prior experiences with a security breach or harassment were more likely to report that they refrained from a range of online activities, after controlling for other factors.

Those households with concerns about identity theft were 16 percentage points more likely to have declined to conduct a financial transaction online, while those households with concerns about data collection by the government were 10 percentage points more likely to report they did not express a controversial or political opinion over the Internet. Households that experienced an online data or security breach in the past year were 11 percentage points more likely to refrain from completing a financial transaction online, while those that experienced online harassment were 14 percentage points more likely to have avoided expressing a controversial view online. These findings suggest that negative experiences, or concerns, with Internet privacy and security may lead to a decline in economic activity and a reduction in the free exchange of ideas online.

At TPRC, NTIA policy staff will also discuss their second paper, The Digital Divide is Closing, Even as New Fissures Surface. In this study, the authors employed data from the CPS Supplement to highlight new dimensions of the digital divide based upon geographic location (i.e., rural versus urban) and the adoption of various Internet enabled devices. The paper analyzes the digital divide from three perspectives: households that do not use the Internet at all; the persistent difference in Internet adoption rates between individuals in rural and urban areas; and individuals that have access to only one type of Internet enabled device.

The authors found a consistent 6 percent to 7 percent difference between Internet adoption rates in rural and urban communities, with 69 percent of rural residents reporting Internet use in 2015, compared to 75 percent of urban residents. All persons, regardless of race or ethnicity, were less likely to use the Internet if they lived in rural areas. However, the data demonstrates that adoption rates are particularly lower for rural households of certain ethnic groups, lower levels of family income, and lower educational levels, as compared to their urban counterparts. The paper also shows that single device users – those typically older, with lower household income and educational levels than multi-device users – were less likely to engage in nearly all types of online activities as compared to multi-device users. Understanding the evolving dimensions of the digital divide is particularly critical in targeting those individuals and households that are either not online or may have limited access.

These working papers are important examples of what researchers can do using a data collection NTIA has regularly commissioned for more than two decades. Careful analysis of data from the CPS Supplement may reveal important clues for policymakers working to expand the benefits of Internet access and usage to all Americans. Based on these examples, we encourage others to use our data in their own work to help contribute to ongoing conversations in this field.

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