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Recent studies from the Pew Internet & American Life Project make clear that increasing digital literacy and investments in broadband networks are paying dividends.  On the heels of a study from earlier this month showing growth in broadband adoption are two more:  one on the use of mobile devices in the U.S. and another detailing how many people use the Internet.

The study on mobile devices showed that cell phone ownership is currently at 91 percent, up from 75 percent in 2007.  Among other things, Pew found that:

  • 56 percent of all Americans own smartphones;
  • 80 percent of 18-29 year olds own smartphones, but only 18 percent of those over 65 do;
  • Adoption of e-book readers like Kindles and Nooks increased from 2 percent in April of 2009 to 26 percent in January of 2013;
  • And tablet computers saw an even steeper increase – in May of 2010, only 3 percent of the population had a tablet, but in May of 2013, that number sat at 34 percent.

Pew’s study on Internet use in America showed improvements as well.   85% of Americans today use the Internet from some location (such as home, libraries, community centers, etc.) – as compared with only 14% of Americans who used the Internet in 1995.  The new Pew poll helped identify the main reasons why the remaining 15% of Americans still choose not to use the Internet from any location.  Among other things, respondents cited:

  • lack of interest in the Internet (21 percent)
  • lack of computer ownership (13 percent)
  • difficulty of use (10 percent)

We note that 6% of those who do not use the Internet from any location cited “expense” as the reason why they do not use the Internet – in other words, only one in 17 non-adopters cited this as the main barrier.  

From the group of Americans who do not use the Internet from any location, Pew’s study then focused on Americans who do not use wireless (through mobile phones or other wireless devices) or wireline technologies to access the Internet from home. Pew found that 24% of Americans do not go online from home. Pew found that 9% of this group cited the expense of the Internet connection or it being cheaper to access the Internet from somewhere else as the main reason for non-Internet use. The price of a computer, relevance of the Internet to their lives, and digital literacy barriers were all cited as more important reasons for not going online from home.  

This research yet again shows that getting American adults who are offline to go online is a complex problem that is driven by various factors. This recent article in CNET is a good analysis of the dangers of oversimplifying this problem. Pew’s study is the latest research that proves that digital literacy, relevance, and computer ownership are the primary barriers to be attacked. Some of America’s leading broadband providers are actively working to address all these by promoting digital literacy, and providing inexpensive computer hardware and low-cost broadband access. These types of wrap-around solutions – not a myopic focus on the least significant barriers -- are what is needed to bring non-Internet-users online and ensure that they and the nation as a whole benefit from the wonders of the Internet.


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