U.S. says internet use rises as more low income people go online

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Internet use by Americans increased in 2017, fueled by a rise among people with lower incomes, a government report viewed on Wednesday by Reuters found.

FILE PHOTO: A sign advertises Wi-Fi service in the Times Square Subway station in New York, April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) also reported that for the first time tablets were more popular than desktop computers, and that more households had a mobile data plan than wired broadband service. The results were to be publicly released later on Wednesday.

The survey results demonstrate the growing importance of the internet in everyday communication as the way consumers access content changes.

Among Americans living in households with family incomes below $25,000 per year, the survey found internet use increased to 62 percent in 2017 from 57 percent in 2015, while households earning $100,000 or more showed no change at 86 percent.

The gain of 13.5 million users was “driven by increased adoption among low-income families, seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, and other groups that have been less likely to go online,” the agency said.

David Redl, who heads NTIA, said in a statement that “while the trend is encouraging, low-income Americans are still significantly less likely to go online.”

The survey of Americans aged three and older conducted for the agency by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 78 percent used the internet in November 2017, up from 75 percent in July 2015, when the previous survey was conducted.

It found that in 2017, 64 percent of Americans used a smartphone, compared with 53 percent in 2015, and tablet use increased to 32 percent from 29 percent in 2015. At the same time, desktop computer use fell to 30 percent in 2017 from 34 percent in 2015.

Laptop use by Americans was unchanged at 46 percent, while those with Smart TV and TV-connected devices jumped to 34 percent in 2017 from 27 percent in 2015.

The survey involved 123,000 people in more than 52,000 U.S. households. It was the largest U.S. survey of computer and telecommunications use, the agency said.

The report found senior citizens have increased their internet usage since the last survey to 63 percent, up from 56 percent in 2015. Among Hispanics, 72 percent used the internet in 2017, up from 66 percent in 2015, the survey found.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has made “bridging the digital divide” a key focus. The FCC has said that 97 percent of Americans in urban areas have access to high-speed fixed service, while only 65 percent of Americans in rural areas have such access.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot