Austin More Connected Than U.S. Average, but Internet Access Disparities Remain

Although the City of Austin exceeds the national average of residents who use the Internet, not all residents report equal access. Older residents, those with lower levels of education and income, and African American and Hispanic residents experience lower rates of Internet access and use, according to a report released today by The University of Texas at Austin and the City of Austin.

The 2014 Austin Digital Assessment Project was conducted by researchers at the university's Technology and Information Policy Institute and commissioned by the city's Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Office.

The report, based on a citywide survey of 1,908 Austin residents, examined Internet access and use characteristics such as the devices residents use to access the Internet, where they access it and what they do online.

"Austin is a community that is very aware of and in love with technology," said Sharon Strover, lead author of the report and the Philip G. Warner Regents Professor in Communication in the Department of Radio-Television-Film. "However, access to technology and the Internet could still be expanded in the community. This report's findings should lead to improving efforts at expanding digital fluency and increasing access to digital resources."

Key findings from the report include:

  • Overall, 92 percent of Austin households have a home Internet connection, higher than the national average of 72 percent.
  • 80 percent of African Americans in Austin have a home Internet connection; 91.9 percent of Hispanics; and 94.5 percent of white, non-Hispanics.
  • Older residents in particular, older women were less likely to use the Internet.
  • The majority of Austin residents who don't use the Internet live in South Austin.
  • 95.6 percent of Austin residents have cellphones; of these, 83 percent have smartphones.
  • 37 percent of residents have game consoles connected to the Internet.
  • 36 percent of nonusers would be interested in free training sessions.
  • Residents who don't use the Internet cited reasons including the cost of access and safety and privacy concerns.

The report cites the success of past city-sponsored and nonprofit services in remediating many Internet access disparities among residents, including providing computer access locations and help in libraries.

The report also finds that many residents older residents in particular are not aware of or engaged in training programs offered by the city.

"This study will help guide City of Austin decisions and help those involved in digital inclusion better target their efforts and design better services," said John Speirs, who leads digital inclusion efforts in the city's Office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs.

Early results from this survey helped form the basis for the City of Austin's first Digital Inclusion Strategic Plan adopted by the City Council on Nov. 20, 2014. The plan is designed to serve as a road map for ongoing collaborative digital inclusion opportunities with the community.