Who Has Internet Access in the U.S.?

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A recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that 70 percent of Americans 18 and older now have Internet access via high-speed broadband connections. That’s a 4 percent increase since 2012. Since 2000, the percentage of homes with high-speed broadband connections has risen by 67 percent.

Pew’s research also finds that 56 percent of American adults own cell phones that give them access to the Internet.

That means Americans have better access to the Internet than ever before.

But don’t get too excited. Susan Crawford, writing for Wired.com, shows that a closer look reveals a rift in Internet access.

Crawford points out that the poll uses the term “high-speed broadband” too loosely by including satellite service. In reality, DSL delivers a much faster, reliable connection than satellite connections. Crawford suggests that grouping satellite and DSL in the same category is like thinking of a high school football team as a competitor to the New York Giants.

Touting Internet access via cell phone also creates some problems. Cell phone connections have gotten faster in recent years, but they cannot compare to a home DSL connection. It’s obvious that consumers know this: the Pew research shows that 46 percent of Americans have broadband service at home in addition to cell phone Internet access. Only 10 percent have cell phones without home service.

While it’s exciting to see so many more people accessing the Internet by any means, Crawford believes that it reveals a digital divide that falls along socio-economic and racial lines. She writes that the people relying on cell phone access without home broadband service usually have low incomes. Many of them are also members of minority groups. Of course, those two categories often overlap.

So while we can all feel good about increased Internet access throughoutAmerica, it is important to consider how economics and race influence who has easy access to information. The Internet, after all, has become a driving force in business and money-making opportunities as well as socializing and playing games. Without the Internet, low-income persons could have difficulty exploring or applying for new job opportunities that will lift them out of poverty.

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