New PewInternet Report Shows Prevalence of Broadband, Importance of Smartphones


[Image courtesy of PewInternet]

A new report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project illustrates how access to broadband Internet connections are expanding across the nation. Specifically, the report finds that:

As of May 2013, 70% of American adults ages 18 and older have a high-speed broadband connection at home, according to a nationally representative survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This is a small but statistically significant rise from the 66% of adults who said they had home broadband in April 2012.

As you might suspect, there are socioeconomic differences built into these figures:

Almost nine in ten college graduates have high-speed internet at home, compared with just 37% of adults who have not completed high school. Similarly, adults under age 50 are more likely than older adults to have broadband at home, and those living in households earning at least $50,000 per year are more likely to have home broadband than those at lower income levels.

The report also notes, however, that many Americans are using smartphones to access the Internet – not just to augment but in some cases provide broadband-like service. PewInternet does not classify smartphones as broadband because of service and other limitations, but still notes the prevalence of the smartphone as an access tool:

[S]martphones do offer a potential source of online access to individuals who might otherwise lack the ability to go online at all from within the home, even if that access is somewhat limited in comparison. And indeed, 10% of Americans indicate that they do not have a broadband connection at home but that they do own a smartphone (another way to say this is that 32% of non-broadband users own a smartphone). If we include that 10% of Americans with the 70% who have traditional broadband, that means that 80% of Americans have either a broadband connection, a smartphone, or both. Here is how the 80% breaks down:

+ 46% of Americans have both a home broadband connection and a smartphone
+ 24% have a home broadband connection, but not a smartphone
+ 10% have a smartphone, but not a home broadband connection

Most importantly, the report finds that smartphone access serves as a kind of leveller between different demographic groups, finding that “[w]hile blacks and Latinos are less likely to have access to home broadband than whites, their use of smartphones nearly eliminates that difference.”

These findings are of interest to professionals in many fields, but they hold particular promise for election officials, who are constantly seeking new ways to reach citizens about all aspects of the voting process.

The smartphone data is especially important, in that it suggests that election offices seeking to use the Internet to reach current and potential voters will need to be aware of the need to ensure that online sources work for voters using the smaller screens and alternate user interfaces associated with smartphones. In this environment, the growth of “responsive web design” techniques that account for different devices will be increasingly significant.

Thanks to the amazing folks at PewInternet for this data!

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