Connecting the Last 10 Percent of Americans

A work crew installing a cell phone tower

It’s easy to take for granted all of the possibilities that an internet connection provides. A majority of people rely on internet to live their everyday lives and it’s hard to imagine life without it. According to a recent Pew study, about 90 percent of Americans use the internet. That might not come as a shock, considering 26 percent of Americans (say they’re online “almost constantly.” However, that still leaves 10 percent of Americans who don’t use the internet.

So what’s keeping them from going online?

First, it’s worth noting that the same Pew study in 2013 found that 15 percent of Americans weren’t online. This is encouraging news, as today, that has gone down to 10 percent of the population. But to dig into the bigger question, Pew also identifies a few factors that make those Americans less likely to use the internet. They include being 65 or older, having a lower income, living in a rural area, and not having higher levels of education. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have devoted their time and energy towards shrinking those numbers and ensuring as many people as possible receive the benefits offered by a broadband connection.

Digital Literacy Programs

A 2013 Pew study found that of non-internet users, 34 percent said they found the internet too difficult to use. That’s why internet providers like Cox and Comcast offer a variety of digital literacy training programs focused on teaching basic tech skills. That training equips people with the tools and confidence necessary to get them connected.

Low-Cost Broadband Adoption Programs

Pew also discovered that 19 percent of non-internet users cited “the expense of internet service or owning a computer” as their reason for not being online. To combat that, ISPs offer low-cost broadband plans like Internet Essentials or Spectrum Internet Assist, so that nobody is left behind due to income. To date, these programs have connected over 6 million Americans, giving them access to a critical educational and economic resource.

Rural Broadband Projects

Diverse geography and terrain, coupled with the sheer size of the United States, creates a unique problem for physical infrastructure like broadband. ISPs like Charter and Midco have turned to fixed wireless as a solution to that challenge. Others have focused on large-scale infrastructure projects, like GCI’s TERRA network in Alaska that has connected more than 45,000 people and facilitated long-distance learning for students and telehealth for remote patients. Across the country, internet providers have been investing millions of dollars to bring next-generation broadband to sparsely populated areas, connecting school districts, small towns, and bringing gigabit speeds to an entire state.

With the vast majority of Americans online and the growth of data-intensive services and technologies, there’s a lot to celebrate. But it is critical that all Americans have the ability to get connected. The industry continues to step up and roll out a variety of programs to lower barriers and to close the digital divide.