Majority of Americans Use Multiple Internet-connected Devices, Data Shows


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Devices Used to Access the Internet; Percent of Americans Ages 3+, 2011-2013
Devices Used to Access the Internet; Percent of Americans Ages 3+, 2011-2013

Cross blog post by Giulia McHenry, Chief Economist, Office of Policy Analysis and Development, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) 

For many Americans, the days of connecting to the Internet solely through a stationary desktop computer are over. Going online now means shopping on a tablet, using a PlayStation to watch movies, or checking email on a smartphone.

In just a two-year span, between 2011 and 2013, Americans significantly shifted their Internet usage habits, moving toward more mobile Internet use and increasing the range of devices they use to connect , according to data collected in July 2013 as part of NTIA’s Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. A majority of Americans —52 percent — used two or more Internet-connected devices, the data shows. That’s up from 41 percent in July 2011. Americans are using a wide variety of devices to access the Internet, including tablets, laptops, mobile phones, and TV-connected boxes such as gaming consoles or streaming video players.

The data shows a big shift in Americans’ use of mobile devices, with double-digit percentage-point increases in Internet-connected tablet and mobile phone usage. Use of mobile phones to connect jumped from 27 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2013, while tablet use rose from 6 percent to 22 percent.

Americans’ enthusiasm for mobile devices has been accompanied by a drop in desktop computer use, which fell from 45 percent to 40 percent from 2011 to 2013. The use of desktop computers to go online decreased in almost every demographic group examined by NTIA. The notable exception to this trend was seniors ages 65 and older, whose use of desktop computers to access the Internet increased slightly from 33 percent in 2011 to 34 percent in 2013.

Nearly a third of Americans used three or more types of Internet-connected devices in 2013, up from 19 percent in 2011. At the same time, 17 percent of Americans reported using just one type of device, down from 25 percent in 2011. Over the same period, the proportion of Americans who didn’t report use of any device to access the Internet decreased modestly from 33 percent to 30 percent.

The data also shows that Americans with higher incomes and levels of education are more likely to use multiple devices to go online.  For example, those with a family income of $75,000 or more or a college degree used about two types of Internet-connected devices on average in 2013. Those without a high school diploma or with a family income of less than $25,000, however, said they only used one device on average. Usage also varied by age group.  Americans in the 15-24 and 25-44 age groups reported using the Internet with, on average, more than two types of devices in 2013. Seniors ages 65 and older reported less than one device per user on average. In all cases, however, the average number of device types used by Americans to access the Internet increased between 2011 and 2013.

While our data shows Americans are using a wider range of Internet-enabled devices, the characteristics of single-device users are changing: While 92 percent of single device users relied on a desktop or laptop computer to go online in 2011, only 77 percent did so by 2013. More of these single-device users utilized a mobile phone to go online, growing from 6 percent of Americans in 2011 to 19 percent in 2013.

NTIA analysis confirms what many of us already know: Americans increasingly prefer to use a wide range of devices to access the Internet, particularly mobile devices. It is important for policymakers to understand the changing nature of Internet use in order to better target policies and programs that narrow the digital divide and foster innovation. NTIA will continue to monitor and report on these trends, beginning with soon-to-arrive data from July 2015.

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Last updated: 2015-12-07 13:35

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