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Unplugged: NTIA Survey Finds Some Americans Still Avoid Home Internet Use

April 15, 2019 by Rafi Goldberg, Policy Analyst, Office of Policy Analysis and Development

NTIA’s most recent Internet Use Survey depicts a rapidly evolving nation eager to take advantage of technological innovation. Mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and wearables are increasingly dominating the computing landscape, as more Americans than ever use the Internet.

Yet a portion of the population still does not use the Internet at home, consistent with findings in previous NTIA and U.S. Census Bureau surveys on Internet use. According to the most recent data collected in 2017, 22 percent of U.S. households—approximately 28 million households in total—did not use the Internet from home, with most citing either lack of interest or concern about price (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Main Reason for Not Using the Internet at Home, Percent of Offline Households, 2001–2017

The proportion of offline households citing lack of need or interest has increased from 39 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2017, while concerns about expense has remained about the same over that time period. Meanwhile, those citing lack of adequate computing equipment decreased from 21 percent of offline households in 2009 to just 4 percent in 2017.

We found some similarities between the two largest groups of offline households. Each included relatively high numbers of low-income households making less than $25,000 per year. They were also somewhat more likely to be in a rural location, and less likely to have post-secondary education, than those households with home Internet service (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: Selected Characteristics by Home Internet Use or Main Reason for Non-Use Percent of Households, 2017

 

Internet at Home

No Need/Interest

Too Expensive

Total Households

99.2 million

16.2 million

6.0 million

Family Income < $25K/Year

17%

41%

51%

School-Age Child Present

26%

11%

24%

Located in Rural Area

12%

19%

15%

Household Reference Person* Characteristics

Mean Age

49.4

62.8

48.7

No Post-Secondary Education

30%

64%

60%

White, non-Hispanic

68%

64%

48%

Internet Usage Details

Internet Use at Other Locations

84%

15%

31%

Previous Home Internet Use

N/A

11%

25%

Would Buy at Lower Price

N/A

8%

51%

*The reference person is the first individual in each household who is identified as owning or renting the housing unit.

But data on the two groups also revealed some distinct differences. Households that cited lack of interest were less likely to have school-age children at home. Moreover, online households and those citing expense as a concern each had a mean age of 49, while those not online due to lack of need or interest averaged nearly 63 years of age. And households not online at home due to expense were twice as likely as their counterparts citing lack of interest to report using the Internet from other locations, as well as previous home Internet use.

Moreover, 51 percent of the group citing expense reported they would purchase home Internet service if it were offered at a lower price, compared with just 8 percent of the group citing lack of interest.

Ensuring that all Americans can take full advantage of the Internet requires a comprehensive strategy that includes building modern broadband infrastructure in unserved areas, as well as promoting adoption and effective use of the latest technologies. Through programs like BroadbandUSA, the National Spectrum Strategy, the American Broadband Initiative, and our ongoing research programs, NTIA is working to ensure that all Americans have the ability to maximize the Internet’s potential as a tool for economic opportunity and free expression.

NTIA has been conducting Internet Use Surveys for over two decades. Want to keep up with our latest research? Sign up for NTIA’s Data Central mailing list.

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