One out of four Americans not online in '12

Rural, poorer Americans still need Internet access

The number of Americans who connect to the Internet is growing, but one out of four are still offline, according to data released this week by the US Census Bureau from its 2012 Current Population Survey.

The government report showed that in 1984, 8.2 per cent of U.S. households had a computer, compared to 78.9 per cent in 2012.

If Americans have a computer, they're likely to go online. The census report found that in 2012, 74.8 per cent of US households had Internet use at home, compared to 18 per cent in 1997.

US Census Bureau Current Population Survey

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Current Analysis, said he's not surprised at the number of Americans who don't go online to play Angry Birds, read news stories on or watch videos about clever cats on YouTube.

"First reaction, I would have thought there would be more people online in this country. Connectivity is the new normal," Gottheil said. "But if I'd given it much thought, I think I would have come up with this kind of number. We are a very big country... Some of us are poor. Some of us are very remote, and some of us don't like new things."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said the study's numbers show an interesting journey for connectivity in the U.S.

"These numbers indicate a huge growth in home computers and Internet [connectivity] since the '80s and '90s, but also show we have a ways to go," Moorhead said. "One would expect that more than 75 per cent of American households would have Internet via phones, broadband, or dial-up, but then again, there is access at public libraries and schools."

The whole notion of younger people as computer-savvy whiz kids who have to show their parents and grandparents how to use Facebook and Twitter might not be so spot on.

U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey

According to the census report, 69.1 per cent of Americans between the ages of 3 and 17 access the Internet from some location, such as their home, school or local coffee shop. That number jumps to 86 per cent for those between 18 and 34; 84 per cent for those between 35 and 44; 76.7 per cent for anyone between 45 and 64, and 51.4 per cent for those 65 and older.

That means only seniors use the Internet less than young users.

Both Gottheil and Moorhead said a lot of teenage users -- and pre-teens for that matter -- use the Internet and are computer-savvy. The issues that draw down those numbers for younger users are poverty and remote locations that have little Internet access.

"The data points indicate an Internet," Moorhead said. "The data suggests that, on a percentage basis, the very old and very young aren't connected as much."

Regarding smartphone usage, the report showed that 45.3 per cent of Americans 25 and older used smartphones in 2012. That means more than half of American adults did not use smartphones two years ago.

"Smartphones have exploded in popularity, driven by the increased utility and much lower prices on the phones and service plans," Moorhead said. "I am expecting the connectivity numbers to rise in the next five years as prices decline and service levels improve... I believe the Internet connectivity numbers will then increase via smartphones, as even the entry phone will have 3G access."

Gottheil also sees the smartphone market as one that is continually growing. "I imagine the cost of data services is the big factor here," he said. "If we can come up with more bandwidth-conservative approaches and lower price tiers, we'll have more smartphones."

Read more about internet in Computerworld's Internet Topic Center.

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