The Internet is becoming an increasingly vital tool in our information society. More Americans are going online to conduct such day-to-day activities as business transactions, personal correspondence, research and information-gathering, and shopping. Each year, being digitally connected becomes ever more critical to economic, educational, and social advancement. Now that a large number of Americans regularly use the Internet to conduct daily activities, people who lack access to those tools are at a growing disadvantage. Therefore, raising the level of digital inclusion -- by increasing the number of Americans using the technology tools of the digital age -- is a vitally important national goal.

This report, Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion, is the fourth in the Falling Through the Net series. In this report, we measure the extent of digital inclusion by looking at households and individuals that have a computer and an Internet connection. We measure the digital divide, as we have before, by looking at the differences in the shares of each group that is digitally connected. For the first time, we also provide data on high-speed access to the Internet, as well as access to the Internet and computers by people with disabilities.

The data show that the overall level of U.S. digital inclusion is rapidly increasing:

The rapid uptake of new technologies is occurring among most groups of Americans, regardless of income, education, race or ethnicity, location, age, or gender, suggesting that digital inclusion is a realizable goal. Groups that have traditionally been digital "have nots" are now making dramatic gains: Nonetheless, a digital divide remains or has expanded slightly in some cases, even while Internet access and computer ownership are rising rapidly for almost all groups. For example, the August 2000 data show that noticeable divides still exist between those with different levels of income and education, different racial and ethnic groups, old and young, single and dual-parent families, and those with and without disabilities. -- The divide between Internet access rates for Black households and the national average rate was 18.0 percentage points in August 2000 (a 23.5% penetration rate for Black households, compared to 41.5% for households nationally). That gap is 3.0 percentage points wider than the 15.0 percentage point gap that existed in December 1998.

-- The Internet divide between Hispanic households and the national average rate was 17.9 percentage points in August 2000 (a 23.6% penetration rate for Hispanic households, compared to 41.5% for households nationally). That gap is 4.3 percentage points wider than the 13.6 percentage point gap that existed in December 1998.

-- With respect to individuals, while about a third of the U.S. population uses the Internet at home, only 16.1% of Hispanics and 18.9% of Blacks use the Internet at home.

-- Differences in income and education do not fully account for this facet of the digital divide. Estimates of what Internet access rates for Blacks and Hispanic households would have been if they had incomes and education levels as high as the nation as a whole show that these two factors account for about one-half of the differences.

-- The August 2000 divide between Black households and the national average rate with regard to computer ownership was 18.4 percentage points (a 32.6% penetration rate for Black households, compared to 51.0% for households nationally). That gap is statistically no different from the gap that existed in December1998.

-- Similarly, the 17.3 percentage point difference between the share of Hispanic households with a computer (33.7%) and the national average (51.%) did not register a statistically significant change from the December 1998 computer divide.

Americans are using the Internet in the following ways:
  Internet access is no longer a luxury item, but a resource used by many. Overall, the findings in this report show that there has been tremendous progress in just 20 months, but much work remains to be done. Computer ownership and Internet access rates are rapidly rising nationwide and for almost all groups. Nonetheless, there are still sectors of Americans that are not adequately digitally connected. Until everyone has access to new technology tools, we must continue to take steps to expand access to these information resources.