The Pew Research Center recently released a report indicating that 7 percent of the U.S. population is still not online. That represents about 18 million people, and most of them are over the age of 65.
The Internet Age
In this internet age we live in, it is hard to fathom that any Americans live without internet access, but that is absolutely the case according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. Perhaps less surprisingly, most of those people are senior citizens who may have been less motivated to embrace a newer technology and who are often living on a fixed income. Still, it is 7 percent of the population and around 18 million people, which is a staggering number regardless of age and factors like that.
Trending In the Right Direction
Nevertheless, more people now are connected and using the Internet every day. The last time the Pew Research Center conducted this study was 20 years ago. At that time, 50 percent of all adults surveyed did not use the Internet and the percentage of the population without access was 14 percent. That transition in just 20 years is rather phenomenal, and some have pointed to it as evidence that Internet access is no longer a luxury but an essential that may have to be governed as such. Consider that since 1900, there have only been three technologies embraced faster than the Internet. These are the automobile around 1915, the microwave around 1975 and the cellphone around 1990. It also worth noting that adoption of the cellphone is inextricably tied to adoption of the Internet.
The Coronavirus Effect
Another point to consider is that the Pew Research Center conducted the survey between January 25 and February 8, 2021, which is the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people were in lockdown, which required working remotely and attending school remotely. They also stream TV shows and movies on Netflix or Flex TV and play games online for their leisure. That likely played a role in the uptick as well, but it is impossible from this survey alone to tell how much that role was.
The People Not Online
The biggest factor in a person not being connected is age. In fact, 25 percent of people age 65 and up responded that they did not go online at all. That is astounding when you compare it to the 50-64 age group bracket. Only 4 percent of that group does not use the Internet. Income and education are both factors as well. People who do connect are more likely not to have a college degree and to make less than $30K per year. Rural residents are also twice as likely as urban residents not to use the Internet.
The Reasons Why
This particular survey did not ask respondents why they were not online, but a Pew Research Center survey from two years ago did and may shed some light. In that group, 23 percent said that their smartphone was all that they needed, and 21 percent said that broadband Internet was simply too expensive. Only 7 percent indicated that they did not have access to any service at all.
Closing the Affordability Gap
The affordability gap is an even more serious problem than the availability gap. Until recently, the only federal support was Lifeline, which provides $9.25 a month. The average broadband bill is more than $60. Due to the coronavirus, the FCC established the Emergency Broadband Benefit. It provides $50 a month, but it is a temporary measure and has finite funds. Closing the digital divide will likely requirement something along the lines of the EBB but in a more permanent manner.