Home broadband adoption has moved inexorably higher in the U.S. since the new millennium began, rising from just 3% in 2000 to 70% as of May 2013. That’s significantly higher than the 66% of American adults who reported having home broadband in April 2012, according to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

On the flip side, the percentage of Americans with dial-up Internet connections has dropped from a high of 41% in April 2001 to 3% in August 2011 and has remained flat since.

The emergence and rapid adoption of mobile broadband networks and devices is increasingly playing a role in broadening broadband adoption, even in the home, offering an alternate form of home Internet access, according to Pew’s findings. Fifty-six percent of American adults own smartphones as compared to 70% who have home broadband, Pew report authors note.

For a variety of reasons, Pew researchers don’t include smartphones in their “standard definition of what constitutes a ‘broadband user.’” That said, “smartphones do offer a potential source of online access to individuals who might otherwise lack the ability to go online at all from within the home, even if that access is somewhat limited in comparison.”

They point out that 10% of Americans reported they do not have home broadband but do own a smartphone. Including this 10% with those who have a traditional broadband connection at home means that 80% of Americans either have a broadband connection, a smartphone, or both. Digging a little deeper, they note,

  • 46% of Americans have both a home broadband connection and a smartphone
  • 24% have a home broadband connection, but not a smartphone
  • 10% have a smartphone, but not a home broadband connection

Furthermore, including smartphones in the definition of home broadband narrows the broadband gap between racial and ethnic groups – including smartphone ownership effectively wipes out the gaps between blacks, Latinos and whites, according to Pew’s findings.

Including smartphones in the definition of broadband exacerbates the differences in broadband adoption rates between young and old, however. Pew researchers found that 80% of young adults (18-29) have home broadband as compared to 43% of seniors 65 and over. The 37 percentage point gap widens to 49% if smartphone ownership is included.

If smartphone ownership is included in Pew’s definition of broadband, the percentage of young American adults with home broadband increases from 80% to 95%. This has no real impact when it comes to home broadband adoption rates among U.S. seniors, on the other hand: 46% have broadband or a smartphone as compared to 43% who have broadband in the traditional definition.

While the increased availability and affordability of broadband Internet access certainly has a lot to do with growing home broadband adoption, these factors don’t tell the whole tale. In its July 2011 Current Population Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau found that about 98% of U.S. households are located in areas where broadband Internet connections are available, but just 69% of households have used broadband at home, Pew notes.

Age, level of eduction and household income level, “are among the strongest factors associated with home broadband adoption,” Pew project research associate and report lead author Kathryn Zickuhr was quoted in a press release.

Confirming previous research results, Pew researchers found that college graduates, adults under 50 and those living in households with incomes of at least $50,000, as well as whites and adults living in urban or suburban areas, had the highest rates of home broadband adoption.

The small minority of Americans still relying on dial-up “cite cost and access as the main reasons they don’t have broadband, but for adults who don’t use the Internet at all, a lack of interest is often the main issue,” Zickuhr noted.

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