If you thought you were ahead of the game because you have a broadband internet connection at home or wireless on the road, The Pew Internet Project has news for you - the rest of the country is catching up. Americans in all demographics are rapidly adopting broadband and wireless, with 60% of people surveyed reporting that they’re using broadband and over half connecting wirelessly.
Overall Internet Usage Holds Steady
Pew’s most recent survey on internet, broadband, and cell phone usage took place in November and December 2009, and for the first time included interviews in Spanish. The survey found that 74% of adults in the US use the internet. Note that this is a slight drop from the same survey conducted in April 2009 which found 79% of English speaking Americans to be online.
Other findings did not vary significantly between the surveys. Both found that about 60% of adults (60% in December 2009 vs 63% in April) use broadband connections at home, and that 55% of adults in the country use wireless connections ( WiFi or WiMax) to connect from their smart phones or laptops.
Looking at the findings of Pew’s survey of internet use over the past 15 years, you can see that the number of Americans using the web has increased dramatically. And also that growth has slowed.
Wireless and Broadband Take Off
For example, overall internet usage has leveled off (73% in 2006 compared to 74% today), leading Pew to conclude that there has been “little significant growth” in the population of people using the Internet since 2006. Broadband usage in that same period, however, has increased considerably from less than half of all households being wired for broadband in 2006 to a near 60% in 2009.
Use of wireless connections is not far behind, with 55% of surveyed Americans using wireless at least occasionally. Among the 46% of the population who own a laptop 83% use Wi-Fi. The increasing trend toward internet access from everywhere is ongoing, and there is still plenty of room for growth. Although over 80% of those surveyed use mobile phones, only 35% have used their phones to access online content.
Who’s Using What?
When broken into demographic groups, Pew’s findings fall into predictable patterns. Among the 2,258 American adults who participated in the phone survey, internet use and use of broadband and wireless connections, correlated with youth, wealth, and higher levels of education.
People in households with incomes greater than $75,000 a year, college graduates, and people in the 18-29 age range have much higher wireless internet use rates than others in those groups. Suburban and urban populations also showed higher rates of use (56% and 57% respectively), to the 45% of wireless users found in rural areas.
It might seem intuitive that the expense of laptops and online services would create the biggest barrier to internet and broadband access for low income users. However, it turns out that the biggest determining factor is education. Of those without a high school degree, a mere 39% are online, compared to 60% of people in the lowest income group. The only group that uses the Internet less is those over the age of 65. When it comes to broadband use, only 24% of those without a high school degree report using broadband connections, as compared to 46% for high school graduates, and 83% for those who graduated from college.
Putting it All Together
The big picture numbers show us that 3 out of every 4 people are online, and more and more are using wireless and high-speed broadband technologies. This is great news for people searching for health information, support, or communities online. And great news for health communicators, support networks, and others who want to reach them. But there are still gaps to be filled. Assuming these findings apply to the populations of e-patients, caregivers, and other digital health consumers, there are a lot of less affluent, less educated people that need health-related support and can’t access it online.