Survey: US PC Internet Adoption Has Plateaued

This past week the Pew Internet Project released a mix of data drawn from 2011 surveys. This new "Digital Differences" report reveals that 20% of US adult population does not use the Internet for a range of reasons ("no need," etc). These are mostly older, less educated or less affluent people. These findings are not surprising. 

However the data argue more strikingly PC-based Internet adoption in the US has reached something of a plateau. While that could change over time, it's further evidence of the "post-PC" era we're now in. 

Internet adoption

Pew also found that about 60% of PC-Internet users had a "broadband" connection at home. Like the PC-Internet adoption curve, broadband adoption has hit a ceiling and may even be seeing a downward trend, with a decline in the number of home-based broadband connections in the past year.

Broadband and dial up adoption

Many people who do not have a broadband Internet connection at home are using smartphones as their primary way to get online. While many seniors and other older adults will probably continue resist smartphones, several groups that are among the 20% are adopting them.

Pew found that "young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels who owned smartphones were more likely to say that their phone was their main source of internet access." About 25% of Pew's smartphone-owning surey respondents said that their mobile devices were their primary Internet access method.

Gadget ownership over time

Indeed, a portion of the 20% of US adults that don't have PC-based Internet access at home are getting online now through smartphones. However this "mostly mobile" Internet group includes adults who do have at-home Internet but prefer their mobile phones for Internet access for one reason or another. 

In a recent online survey we conducted (n=1,502 US adults) we found a slightly lower percentage (17.6%) of respondents who preferred mobile devices as their primary Internet access method:

  • Laptop computer -- 44.7%
  • Desktop PC -- 35.2%
  • Total mobile: 17.6%
  • Smartphone -- 9.3%
  • Tablet (iPad) -- 8.3%
  • Other -- 8.4%

Perhaps the most interesting observation is how smartphone ownership and Internet access impacts overall digital media usage. According to Pew people who use mobile devices to go online become much more active and engaged Internet users, including creating more content:

Once someone has a wireless device, she becomes much more active in how she uses the internet–not just with wireless connectivity, but also with wired devices. The same holds true for the impact of wireless connections and people’s interest in using the internet to connect with others. These mobile users go online not just to find information but to share what they find and even create new content much more than they did before.