Home Use of Internet Growing, But Divide Still Exists

Computer ownership and home Internet access were still rising through 2003, a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday found, but the study also noted that regional, racial and socioeconomic factors still play a big role in who does and does not have access to and interest in the Web.

Overall, 61.8 percent of U.S. households owned a computer in 2003, and 54.7 percent — or 62 million — had Internet access. And while the so-called “digital divide” still exists between the haves and have-nots of the Net, the problem may not be as severe as it once was. Of those who did not have access, 39 percent said it was by choice; 23 percent cited expense, and another 23 percent said they either didn’t have a computer or it wasn’t adequate.

Some of Market ‘Untappable’

Erik Thoresen, senior analyst at Mintel, told the E-Commerce Times that there were ways of trying to boost those numbers, but no single solution would work.

“No matter how affordable or accessible you make Internet access, some of the untapped market is untappable,” he said. “There are a lot of small programs set up to help people get PCs, especially in poorer areas.”

“There’s nothing that’s going to be the single answer,” he concluded.

Wealthier, more educated households with school-age children were most likely to have Internet access. While only 45 percent of African-American and Hispanic homes had Web access, 67 percent of Asian homes and about 65 percent of white families had access. People over 65 were least likely to have a computer or Internet access.

Southerners were least likely (59 percent) to have Internet access at home, Westerners most likely (67 percent).

Life Without Internet

Thoresen warned against putting too much into these figures, partly because they are two years old and partly because he said home Internet access was a double-edged sword.

“I don’t think that Internet access is going to change people’s approach to life,” he said. “Plus, the availability of Internet access at public libraries is awesome [today] compared to even a few years ago. Is it really beneficial to consumers’ lives to have Internet access everywhere? It’s not all upside.”

He did say, however, that as time goes on, more and more activity will take place online.

“It is increasingly inconvenient not to have access at home,” he said. “Teachers use e-mail, for instance. In the future, there will be a lot more social and practical reasons why people need e-mail.”

The Census Bureau began asking Americans about Internet access in 1997. At that time, only 18 percent of households had the Internet at home.

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