What Do You Do Online? Commerce Wants to Know

The census supplement that's been tracking Americans' Internet use since the late '90s will begin probing deeper with the 2010 results due out later this year, asking how Americans spend their time online and what they pay for it, a Commerce Department economist told colleagues Thursday.

The annual Current Population Supplement's section on computer ownership will also dig deeper into why Americans who don't use the Internet are staying offline, Commerce Economist Beethika Khan told a lunch meeting of the National Economists Club in Washington's Chinatown.

If analog Americans cite the prohibitive cost of accessing the Internet, for example, the survey will ask if it's the fixed cost of buying a computer that's kept them offline or the recurring cost of broadband access, she said.

The most commonly cited reason for staying offline in the 2009 supplement was that responders hadn't found anything on the Internet that interested them, Khan said.

Americans who don't use the Internet tend to be older and more rural and are more likely to be black or Hispanic than white or Asian, according to a study prepared by Khan's office using the 2009 CPS data.

According to that study, 64 percent of American households had Broadband access in 2009 and 5 percent used dial-up modems. Another 8 percent of households didn't have Internet access at home but used it outside the home and 23 percent didn't use the Internet at all, the report said.

Broadband made its way into more than 50 percent of U.S. households just eight years after it was introduced, Khan said, a more rapid timeline than nearly any other technology.

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