Digital Divide Showing Signs of Giving Way

  • NTIA
by David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator

The digital divide is showing signs of giving way as more Americans from all walks of life connect to the internet. Several historically disadvantaged groups showed significant increases in online adoption, according to initial results from NTIA’s most recent survey on Internet use conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The survey, which was conducted in November 2017, reveals new contours of Americans’ internet use. In 2017, more households had a mobile data plan than wired broadband service. Additionally, for the first time since NTIA began tracking use of different types of computing devices, tablets were more popular than desktop computers among Americans, and the number of people who used multiple types of devices also increased substantially.

Narrowing Digital Divide
The data show that 78 percent of Americans ages 3 and older used the internet as of November 2017, compared with 75 percent in July 2015, when our previous survey was conducted. This increase of 13.5 million users was driven by increased adoption among low-income families, seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, and other groups that have been less likely to go online.

For example, among Americans living in households with family incomes below $25,000 per year, internet use increased from 57 percent in 2015 to 62 percent in 2017, while households earning $100,000 or more showed no change during this period. While the trend is encouraging, low-income Americans are still significantly less likely to go online.

Seniors Increase Internet Usage
Similarly, seniors (aged 65 and older) have increased their internet usage since the last survey to 63 percent, compared with 56 percent in 2015, narrowing the gap with younger internet users. Internet use among African Americans and Hispanics also continued to climb. For example, 72 percent of Hispanics used the internet in 2017 — up from 66 percent in 2015, which was itself a large gain from 2013.

Usage Shifts to Mobile Devices and Data Plans
Even as more Americans become connected, the ways in which they use the internet are evolving. Data from 2017 show that more households (88.9 million) had mobile data plans than wired broadband service (85.3 million), a reflection of changing patterns in internet use.

Device of Choice Shifts
Americans’ computing devices of choice have also changed in recent years. Two years ago, NTIA reported that use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets was on this rise, and that continued to be true in 2017. Sixty-four percent of Americans used a smartphone in 2017, compared with 53 percent in 2015, and tablet use increased to 32 percent from 29 percent during the same period. The use of wearable devices such as smart watches and fitness bands — still a nascent product category — grew significantly to 8 percent of Americans, from 1 percent two years earlier. Smart TV and TV-connected device use also continued to increase, growing by seven percentage points to 34 percent from 2015 to 2017.

Laptop use was unchanged at 46 percent of Americans, and desktop computer use continued to slide to 30 percent in 2017 — meaning tablet use surpassed desktop computer use for the first time.


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