Blog Post

A Quarter of Americans Aren't On the Web

Amid the discussion of universal broadband access, those without broadband get all of the attention. But what about the 17 percent of Americans who regardless of cost or access simply don’t want to go online? Or the 1.7 percent who think dial-up is just fine? As hard as it is for the technically literate to imagine, roughly 25 percent of Americans don’t use the web.

The Pew Internet and American Life Survey asked people who either don’t have broadband or don’t have web access in their homes at all why they aren’t surfing the Internet at blazing fast speeds. The responses show that getting citizens online will have to involve more than laying fiber or even subsidizing subscriptions — they need to be convinced going online is worth it. That translates into millions of citizens who are getting left behind, most likely the oldest and poorest among us. How can the tech community reach them — not just with cable, but with compelling content?

24 Responses to “A Quarter of Americans Aren't On the Web”

  1. If you’re not in the information business, what do you REALLY get out of having an Internet connection? Let’s see:

    email. Just make a phone call.
    mp3s. Just buy CDs at Wal-Mart.
    ebooks. Just buy paper books at Wal-Mart, or stick with the local newspaper and the Bible, if you can read at all.
    remote IT work. Not everyone is a software engineer you know, some people work for a living.
    remote language lesson. This is America dammit, are you a commie?
    research libraries. if you live in the woods, you ain’t doing research on anything but which bait works best.
    elderly. Just go live with your kids.
    social networking. If you’re over 70 and you don’t know where your friends are, they’re dead.

    Not that anyone I know lives like that, just saying. Amazon works fine over dialup but that doesn’t mean everybody reads a book a week.

  2. This is shoddy data without knowing more about the individuals surveyed (age, geographical area, income, etc). There is nothing to conclude from these datapoints except that 25% of Americans don’t use the web.

  3. Stacey Higginbotham

    Naysayers, really? The web makes possible much more than entertainment. For example, my brother meets with a Chinese tutor (in China) via Skype many nights to learn Mandarin. Those who don’t buy airline tickets online are charged more for their transaction. There are plenty of people whose broadband connections allow them to work remotely without a loss of productivity. For people without access to research libraries or even decent schools, there’s a possibility of better education. For elderly people trying to stay independent, the web allows caregivers to monitor health as well as communicate. Broadband access offers much more than email and social networking, which is why it’s important to make sure it is accessible to a large portion of the population, and we show people why it’s useful.

  4. Jesse Kopelman

    @Joy Mari

    You don’t see the relationship between illiteracy and lack of desire to go online are related!? I think you would be hard pressed to find people who grew up in the IT age who are readers yet don’t do a large percentage of their reading online.

  5. It’s PRICE! That people do not get the benefit is telco propaganda.

    “Though the outlines of Obama’s broadband stimulus plan are not yet clear, two barriers identified
    above are likely targets of such a package: availability and price. These are the main issues for
    about a third of the adult population currently without broadband service. Providing incentives to
    build broadband infrastructure directly addresses the availability problem and could be of
    particular help to Americans living in rural areas, where 24% of dial-up users say they cannot get
    broadband because high-speed infrastructure doesn’t reach their home.

  6. I lived rural for several years – stuck in a satellite world as DSL nor cable would run the lines down the road. So for me, it was a decision point on moving.

    For others in this area the demographics skewed towards; older, dairy farmers (mostly all bankrupt), high school education. They saw little to no benefit for improving their daily life going on-line. Take a minute to catalog what you spend your time on-line doing, then map this behavior to their scenerios. You will see little overlap.

    The scarier scenarios are, many government and private sector services they do require (medicare, medicaid, social services) are moving to an on-line model. As this pace quickens this is the solution to the “problem” mentioned above.

    But really the problems are more complex than content:

    – Will the cable companies run service for the last mile?
    (In my case no, unless I was willing to pay $19K to personally pay to run it past 9 other houses.)

    – Will the government subsidize monthly payments for those who can not afford $60/month to access their care?

    etc etc etc….

    • jan feldtmann

      if the money that was pilfered in the government was put to use,then we could have better education ,and also be able to feed the people. then you could be online without the distractions.jan.

  7. Anonymous Deux

    Is there really a reason to be online? Truly a choice in life.

    Broadband availability certainly is not universal – and I would really like a halt to these cries for government intervention to make it so. Don’t we already have universal service funds, library and school funds, disability access funds. These slush funds are enormous already and the taxes add up. Time to cut those taxes out completely!

    I’ve seen countless articles suggesting that “kids” give up the 4 bucks coffee to save money. Broadband internet on service providers like cable is 1-2 bucks a day. Is it worth it in tough times?

    Maybe we need articles on the fact that 1/3 of US households do not have SUVs and we need a stimulus program in place to get more Americans driving SUVs.

  8. I understand how the urban half of the country overlooks the economics of the remainder; but, it does the rest of us little political good.

    An important aspect of broadband penetration is competition and cost.

    I have 3 choices: Telco DSL @ 1.25mbps, Comcast at 6mbps and up, satellite dish at DSL speeds. For many the only affordable option is the slow flavor of DSL. Comcast has NO competition in most rural and suburban areas. Often there is only one cable provider in this context. If it ain’t Comcast, it’s one of their peers.

    While latency is no problem for non-gamers like me, satellite access has other problems – cost, limits on throughput – all the qualities everyone fears coming in terrestrial broadband are a basic premise via satellite.

  9. As anonymous said, achieving 100% penetration of new technology takes time, and it would be interesting to see whether the non-broadband 25% tend to be older, or slow adopters of all technology etc.

    The other side is that some people might bypass fixed internet completely and go straight to mobile internet, seeing it as part of a new phone, and not even really thinking about the fact it’s internet access.

  10. Yes, and I reject the assertion that not being online is “being left behind”. How is not being online going to interfere with getting health care? Without citing all the references it’s actually pretty easy to show that most people do everything offline and in fact their standard of living is defined by those attributes.

    It is of course important for the technology industries to justify spend in their areas and foster the need for growth, but I can think of other infrastructure applications that would do more to improve the lives of people than a 1mb connection.

  11. anonymous

    This situation is nothing new. TV caught on in a big way in the 1950s, but it still took a generation to achieve near-100% penetration of households. There is no need to make an effort to “reach” the holdouts. Time will take care of this “problem”.