America Offline: Many Don’t Surf, Many Don’t Care

There are some 31 million households in the United States without Internet access, and almost half them don’t care a jot about it.

Twenty-nine percent of U.S. households don’t have Internet access and don’t plan to get it in the next 12 months, according to a study released this week by Parks Associates.

The chief reason given by 44 percent of those households for not subscribing to an Internet service, Parks found, was that there was nothing in cyberspace that interested them.

Other reasons for not subscribing to an Internet service included being unsure how to use the Internet (17 percent), an inability to afford a computer (14 percent), having Internet access at work (14 percent), an inability to afford a service (8 percent), and inability to get service at one’s home (3 percent).

Parks’ findings were part of its National Technology Scan, an annual study conducted by the firm.

The Age Factor

This year’s Internet subscription figures are actually better than last year’s, according to Parks’ Director of Research John Barrett. “This time around, 29 percent said they don’t have it and they’re not interested,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The previous year, that was about 34 percent.”

Age was an important factor in determining a household’s interest in the Internet. The two age groups with the highest percentages of non-subscribers were those who were 55 to 64 year olds (18.8 percent), and those 65 years old or more (38.7 percent), according to Parks.

“There’s a generational effect going on,” Barrett said. “There are some people that because of their age, the Internet really doesn’t appeal — doesn’t resonate that well with them.”

As the portion of the population born before the Internet shrinks, he said, so too will the number of households that don’t have an Internet connection.

In The Ballpark

The findings aren’t surprising, considering that 20 percent of U.S. households do not have a personal computer, observed Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst with the Leichtman Research Group (LRG).

“If you don’t have a computer, it’s pretty hard to get on the Internet,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Indeed, Parks’ results show that 77.4 percent of households without an Internet connection don’t have a personal computer.

As for the number of U.S. households without Internet access, Leichtman opined that the twenty-nine percent figure for those who are not interested might be a little high, “but it’s in the right ballpark.”

Income Barrier

Age is not the major barrier to greater Internet penetration, argued Leichtman. “To put the weight on age might be missing the greater factor, which is income,” he said.

The Parks numbers show a strong correlation between income and Internet subscriptions. More than 40 percent of households who do not have Internet service have incomes of less than US$35,000, while households with incomes of $75,000 or more have non-subscription rates in the single digits.

Those figures also show that education plays a role in Internet access. More than 84 percent of non-subscribers did not have a college degree. Among non-subscribers, 11.8 percent were high school dropouts, 43.3 percent had high school diplomas, and 29.6 percent had some college or an associate’s degree.

Broadband Use Increasing

Broadband usage has increased since Parks released its first National Technology Scan study, noted Barrett. “When we first did this, 18 percent of households had dial-up. Now that’s down to 13,” he said. Meanwhile, broadband penetration has gone from 42 percent of households to 52 percent.

In figures released earlier this month, LRG reported that the 20 largest cable and telephone providers in the United States, which represent about 94 percent of the broadband market, had a record year for acquiring high-speed Internet subscribers.

Combined net additions for the year totaled over 10.2 million subscribers — a total that exceeded the previous record set in 2005 by about 500,000 subscribers.

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