Larry Irving
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
U.S. Department of Commerce

NTIA is pleased to release Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. This is our third report examining which American households have access to telephones, computers, and the Internet, and which do not. The "digital divide"-- the divide between those with access to new technologies and those without -- is now one of America's leading economic and civil rights issues. This report will help clarify which Americans are falling further behind, so that we can take concrete steps to redress this gap.

Overall, we have found that the number of Americans connected to the nation's information infrastructure is soaring. Nevertheless, this year's report finds that a digital divide still exists, and, in many cases, is actually widening over time. Minorities, low-income persons, the less educated, and children of single-parent households, particularly when they reside in rural areas or central cities, are among the groups that lack access to information resources.

Part I of this report surveys household access to telephones, computers, and the Internet, updating the surveys in our previous two reports: Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the "Have Nots" in Rural and Urban America (July 1995) and Falling Through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide (July 1998). We find that, although more households are connected, certain households are gaining access to new technologies far more quickly, while others are falling further behind.

Part II provides significant new information on individual Internet usage. Among other things, we look at how people are connected to the Internet; where people access the Internet outside the home (such as at work, school, a library, or a community center); how Americans choose to spend their time online; and why some people are not connected. We find that certain people are more likely to have Internet access, especially at home or work. Some of those who lack such access, however, are using the Internet at public facilities, including schools and public libraries, and are using the Internet in ways that will help them advance economically and professionally.

Part III discusses the challenges ahead in solving the digital divide and highlights the significance of several key policies in promoting access. In the Appendix to this report, we also provide a Trendline Study depicting the trends in household telephone, computer, and Internet access at various points since 1984. This historic survey adds critical information regarding how far we have come in the last fourteen years, and how far we have yet to go in connecting Americans to critical information resources.

The report provides a wealth of information that can be used by policymakers, researchers, industry, academics, and the general public. We have tried to present much of the critical data in comprehensible charts and tables. The entire range of U.S. Department of Commerce Census Bureau data, however, is too vast to summarize within the confines of one report. Additional charts, a link to the original Census data, and the survey instrument can be obtained through NTIA's web site at, or you may contact NTIA's Office of Public Affairs at (202) 482-7002 for further information.

We hope that this data will provide the basis for further discussion about ways to make information resources available to all Americans. As we enter the Information Age, access to information resources will be increasingly critical to finding a job, contacting colleagues, taking courses, researching products, or finding public information. Determining who has access to these resources is a critical first step towards closing the digital divide and ensuring that no group continues to fall through the Net.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary -->