“While higher-income households are most likely to subscribe to a broadband service, disparities in computer ownership and computer literacy remain at the root of the broadband divide in the United States," Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, observes. "A lack of need is still the most common reason for not getting an internet service at home, rather than cost or the ability to get the internet on a smartphone."
He’s referencing LRG findings from a recent telephone survey of 1,208 households throughout the United States. In the study, 83 percent of U.S. households report having internet service at home, compared to 82 percent in 2010, and 69 percent in 2006. People who don’t have the internet at home tend to be older and lower income, according to the firm’s “Broadband Access & Services in the Home 2016.” LRG reports that 40 percent of people surveyed with annual household incomes under $30,000 are not online at home, and 36 percent of people over 65 didn’t have the service at home.
LRG concludes that the most common characteristic of those not online at home is that 60 percent do not use a laptop or desktop computer there. “Consistent with the profile of those not online at home, the most common reason for not getting an internet service at home is a lack of need (cited by 50 percent),” the research firm says in a statement. “This reason far exceeds those who mention cost (17 percent), availability (8 percent), or access to the internet on a smartphone (8 percent) as a reason not to subscribe to an internet service at home.”
Some operators have indicated an understanding that bridging the digital divide involves more than providing very low-cost broadband access to those eligible. It also includes ensuring people have access to computers and that they are better informed about education, training, and employment opportunities afforded by internet access at home. Comcast, for example, through its Internet Essentials program, has offered eligible low-income citizens the option to purchase a subsidized computer for less than $150, and access to digital literacy training.
LRG’s recent report further says that broadband accounts for 97 percent of households with internet service at home, and 81 percent of all households get a broadband internet service. LRG says that’s an increase from 74 percent in 2010, and 42 percent in 2006. Around 86 percent of households reportedly use at least one laptop or desktop computer, and 92 percent of this group get an internet service at home. Overall, 66 percent of those surveyed get both an internet service at home and on a smartphone, which is up from 42 percent in 2012 in LRG’s findings.
LRG also says that 6 percent of overall respondents say they access the internet on a smartphone, but do not get an internet service at home. That compared to 2 percent in the company’s 2012 survey.
Back in October, the Pew Research Center questioned whether smartphones are an adequate substitute for broadband access at home, since those who depend on their phones to go online encounter constraints with data caps and small screens. More on Pew’s research around the topic is available here.