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
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
- The share of households with Internet access soared by 58%, rising from
26.2% in December 1998 to 41.5% in August 2000.
- More than half of all households (51.0%) have computers, up from 42.1% in
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:
- There were 116.5 million Americans online at some location in August 2000,
31.9 million more than there were only 20 months earlier.
- The share of individuals using the Internet rose by 35.8%, from 32.7% in
December 1998 to 44.4% in August 2000. If growth continues at that rate, more
than half of all Americans will be using the Internet by the middle of 2001.
- The gap between households in rural areas and households nationwide that
access the Internet has narrowed from 4.0 percentage points in 1998 to 2.6
percentage points in 2000. Rural households are much closer to the nationwide
Internet penetration rate of 41.5%. In rural areas this year, 38.9% of the
households had Internet access, a 75% increase from 22.2% in December 1998.
- Americans at every income level are connecting at far higher rates from
their homes, particularly at the middle income levels. Internet access among
households earning $35,000 to $49,000 rose from 29.0% in December 1998 to
46.1% in August 2000. Today, more than two-thirds of all households earning
more than $50,000 have Internet connections (60.9% for households earning
$50,000 to $74,999 and 77.7% for households earning above $75,000).
- Access to the Internet is also expanding across every education level,
particularly for those with some high school or college education. Households
headed by someone with "some college experience" showed the greatest expansion
in Internet penetration of all education levels, rising from 30.2% in December
1998 to 49.0% in August 2000.
- Blacks and Hispanics, while they still lag behind other groups, have shown
impressive gains in Internet access. Black households are now more than twice
as likely to have home access than they were 20 months ago, rising from 11.2%
to 23.5%. Hispanic households have also experienced a tremendous growth rate
during this period, rising from 12.6% to 23.6%.
- The disparity in Internet usage between men and women has largely
disappeared. In December 1998, 34.2% of men and 31.4% of women were using the
Internet. By August 2000, 44.6% of men and a statistically indistinguishable
44.2% of women were Internet users.
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.
- Individuals 50 years of age and older -- while still less likely than
younger Americans to use the Internet -- experienced the highest rates of
growth in Internet usage of all age groups: 53% from December 1998 to August
2000, compared to a 35% growth rate for individual Internet usage nationwide.
- Persons with a disability are only half as likely to have access to the
Internet as those without a disability: 21.6% compared to 42.1%. And while
just under 25% of those without a disability have never used a personal
computer, close to 60% of those with a disability fall into that category.
- Among those with a disability, people who have impaired vision and
problems with manual dexterity have even lower rates of Internet access and
are less likely to use a computer regularly than people with hearing and
mobility problems. This difference holds in the aggregate, as well as across
-- 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
- Large gaps also remain regarding Internet penetration rates among
households of different races and ethnic origins. Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders have maintained the highest level of home Internet access at 56.8%.
Blacks and Hispanics, at the other end of the spectrum, continue to experience
the lowest household Internet penetration rates at 23.5% and 23.6%,
- Large gaps for Blacks and Hispanics remain when measured against the
national average Internet penetration rate.
-- 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.
- With regard to computer ownership, the divide appears to have stabilized,
although it remains large.
-- 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
Americans are using the Internet in the following
- Individuals 50 years of age and older are among the least likely to be
Internet users. The Internet use rate for this group was only 29.6% in 2000.
However, individuals in this age group were almost three times as likely to be
Internet users if they were in the labor force than if they were not.
- Two-parent households are nearly twice as likely to have Internet access
as single-parent households (60.6% for dual-parent, compared to 35.7% for
male-headed households and 30.0% for female-headed households). In central
cities, only 22.8% of female-headed households have Internet access.
- Even with broadband services, a relatively new technology used by only
10.7% of online households, there are disparities. Rural areas, for example,
are now lagging behind central cities and urban areas in broadband penetration
at 7.3%, compared to 12.2% and 11.8%, respectively.
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
- E-mail remains the Internet's 'killer application'-79.9% of Internet users
reported using e-mail.
- Online shopping and bill paying are seeing the fastest growth.
- Low income users were the most likely to report using the Internet to look
- The August 2000 data show that schools, libraries, and other public access
points continue to serve those groups that do not have access at home. For
example, certain groups are far more likely to use public libraries to access
the Internet, such as the unemployed, Blacks, and Asian Americans and Pacific