Released: August 28, 2013

Who has home broadband? New data and resources

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In case you missed it, we just released our latest data on home broadband adoption among American adults:

The report also found that demographic groups with the highest rates of home broadband adoption continue to be college graduates, adults under age 50, and adults living in households earning at least $50,000, as well as whites and adults living in urban or suburban areas. (More data on broadband adoption by different demographic groups is available in the full report.)

The Census Bureau’s July 2011 Current Population Survey found that about 98% of U.S. households live in areas where they have access to broadband Internet connections as of July 2011, although only 69% of households used broadband at home at that time.2 Our previous research has found that many dial-up users cite cost and access as the main reasons they don’t have broadband, though for adults who don’t use the internet at all, a lack of interest is often the main issue.

One in ten adults owns a smartphone but lacks home broadband

In recent years internet-connected mobile devices such as smartphones have exploded in popularity, offering an alternate form of “home” internet access (some 56% of American adults own a smartphone of some kind.)

Though smartphones have often been heralded as a way to “bridge the digital divide,” it’s unclear whether smartphones qualify as “broadband” speed, or whether they offer the same utility to users as a dedicated home internet connection.

However, smartphones do offer a potential source of online access to individuals who might otherwise lack the ability to go online at all from within the home, even if that access is somewhat limited in comparison. And indeed, our report also found that 10% of American adults own a smartphone, but lack a broadband connection at home.

Our data shows that while counting smartphones as a form of high-speed home internet access helps narrow the differences between some demographic groups, it actually widens the gap between others. For instance, the following chart shows that while blacks and Latinos are less likely to have access to home broadband than whites, factoring in their use of smartphones does nearly eliminates that “gap.”3 Yet including smartphones actually exacerbates differences in “broadband” adoption rates when we look at adoption by age group, due to the fact that younger adults are much more likely to own smartphones than older adults.

 Broadband access by race, ethnicity, age group

Rural broadband adoption and access

Our report finds that urban adults and suburban adults continue to be significantly more likely than adults living in rural areas to have home broadband. This gap persists even when smartphone ownership is factored in, as shown in the following chart.

 Broadband access by community type

Though our research focuses on adoption instead of physical access or connection speed, data on these issues and more is available in the report “Broadband Availability in Urban vs. Rural Areas” (pdf) from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Government data and resources

The Census Bureau has state-by-state data on home internet, computer, and smartphone use from its July 2011 survey, which is also used by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in “Exploring the Digital Nation: America’s Emerging Online Experience.” The NTIA report includes data on types of broadband connections, internet and broadband costs, state-level data, and data for smaller demographic groups such as Asian Americans and American Indian and Alaska Natives.

The NTIA’s interactive National Broadband Map also has lots of data on topics such as types of broadband connections, connection speeds, number of broadband providers, or area demographics by state, county, metropolitan area, and more. For more, see ntia.doc.gov/data.

  1. For our broadband definition, we asked people who said they used the internet at home the following question: “At home, do you connect to the Internet through a dial-up telephone line, or do you have some other type of connection, such as a DSL-enabled phone line, a cable TV modem, a wireless connection, or a fiber optic connection such as FIOS?”
  2. “Exploring the Digital Nation: America’s Emerging Online Experience.” National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Economics and Statistics Administration, June 2013. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/report/2013/exploring-digital-nation-americas-emerging-online-experience pp 1-2.
  3. The US Census Bureau has found similar trends in its own research. See Thom File, U.S. Census Bureau, “Computer and Internet Use in the United States.” Issued May 2013, based on the July 2011 Current Population Survey. http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-569.pdf pp 11-13.