A surprising number of Americans are not connected to the internet. According to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Director of Minority Telecommunications Development, Office of Policy Analysis and Development, Maureen Lewis,
“In 2015, 33 million households (27 percent of all U.S. households) did not use the Internet at home, and 26 million households – one-fifth of all households – were offline entirely, lacking a single member who used the Internet from any location in 2015.”
How could this be? More importantly, why?
The top reason households gave for not using the Internet at home in 2015 was that they did not need it or had no interest in going online (55 percent). Many of these households, regardless of race or income level, who have not previously had internet access in their home find it unnecessary to have it now. The graph below shows an uptick in those who find being connected unnecessary and have no interest.
This could be based on comfort or lack of exposure and education as to the importance of being connected.
According to new data released by the NTIA, another “24 percent of households said they didn’t use the Internet at home because of cost concerns.”
Interesting is that cost concerns as a deterrent to going online is a reason often given by households that previously had internet in their home, but can no longer afford it. These households know what it’s like to be connected and know they are at a disadvantage.
The world is changing rapidly and unfortunately, these households that are left out of the digital loop, are at risk of falling in greater despair. Convincing them to pay for a service they feel is unnecessary or they can’t afford is a task. Some have admitted if internet access was more affordable, they would give it a try. Other reasons given by those surveyed include, lack of an adequate computer, privacy/security concerns, and availability of internet services in their area.
One way to reach the 33 million households not connected to the Internet is via mobile devices. In fact, according to recent Pew data, smartphone ownership rates have skyrocketed in many countries since 2013. For those surveyed whose primary concern is cost, more affordable options have begun to present themselves.
For example, for those worried about expensive data plans or running out data, free data options is a viable option. Sponsored data, as it is sometimes referred to, allows smartphone users to surf the web for entertainment and music using the free stash of data, while being able to save their data allotment for more important tasks.
Those left offline are a part of the widening digital divide. Banking, bill pay, health services, job opportunities, education and vital communications are all done online. Managing day to day with no access is not only be inconvenient, but will eventually not be an option. Internet access should be looked at as a necessary living expense and therefore treated like any other affordable living program.