US Internet Access May Be as Good as It Gets

The number of U.S. households connected to the Internet has risen, but 20 percent of households nationwide still don’t have broadband access, according to a study released Monday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Seventy percent of U.S. homes have an Internet connection, the study found, while 10 percent rely solely on connectivity via a smartphone.

Pew broke down the numbers by a variety of factors. College graduates, people between the ages of 18 and 29, suburban residents, and adults living in households with a total income of more than US$75,000 per year are the most likely to have Internet access in their homes. Seventy-four percent of whites reported having broadband in their household, compared to 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Latinos.

Smartphone ownership helps to bridge the access gap; 56 percent of U.S. adults now own smartphones, up from the 45 percent who reported owning one a year ago.

Internet for All?

Pew released its data shortly after a few tech companies announced initiatives to improve worldwide access to the Internet. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is spearheading, a program to accelerate Internet adoption for the 5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it, especially in developing countries.

Google recently announced tests of its Project Loon, which will employ specially designed antennas and balloons to help citizens worldwide receive Internet access.

“The initiative will certainly help to foster positive sentiments from governments and NGOs,” Pivotal Research Group analystBrian Wieser told TechNewsWorld. “On a global basis, most people lack affordable access to the Web, and no existing broadband delivery system has managed to provide a sufficiently inexpensive service to provision those who live in remote or rural areas.”

Different Access Needs

Those remote or rural areas are often thought of as far away from the U.S., but Pew’s recent numbers show that there is still a relatively significant chunk of U.S. citizens who aren’t connected, said industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

However, purely from a business standpoint, it might not be worth it for companies like Google and Facebook to go after that roughly 20 percent of Americans, said Kagan. If those consumers haven’t created a Gmail account or logged onto Facebook now, they might never do so — making it more advantageous to go after the consumers in large-scale emerging economies like India, Brazil and China.

“We must make sure everyone has access to the Internet now,” Kagan told TechNewsWorld. “Before it was not as necessary, but it is becoming more so every year. Big companies and private organizations see this as well. They want to get as many online as possible and as quickly as possible. That means other countries. If we spend lots of time and money getting the remaining 20 percent of Americans online, it may not be worthwhile. They may not have or even want computers or anything to do with the Internet.”

They also might one day be part of the growing consumer crowd that relies solely on a connected mobile device for an Internet connection, especially as smartphones become better equipped to handle complex tasks such as shopping, paying bills or online banking, Kagan added.

“Not everyone wants or needs the same thing from the Internet,” he pointed out. “Some want full computer usage. Others just want ‘Internet Lite’ over their smartphones and are satisfied with that. As long as we make the Internet available in a variety of ways and let the users choose, it is the right track.”

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