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Analysis: Internet access up in Ohio

The large and growing majority of Ohioans have Web access at home, but Internet adoption rates remain significantly lower among older and poorer populations, according to new data.

Last year, about 72 percent of Ohio residents had high-speed broadband service at home, up 1 percentage point from 2012 and 6 percentage points from 2011, according to a survey of Connect Ohio, a nonprofit that advocates for expanding broadband access, adoption and use.

But about 12 percent of Ohioans last year did not use the Internet, and others have slow, limited service or can only access the Web outside of their homes, the survey found.

Officials said the state has made important in progress in bridging the digital divide.

“About 88 percent (of residents) use the Internet somehow,” said Stu Johnson, executive director of Connect Ohio. “Ohio is really in good shape, and we are blessed with fantastic providers and wonderful legislators who care about this… But we have more work to do, because there are still people on the wrong side of the divide.”

Many Ohioans lack easy access to the Internet, and census data released this week show that Ohio has lower Internet adoption rates than many states.

Advocates said the Internet serves a variety of social, economic and educational purposes.

Internet access allows people to keep in touch with family and friends. It helps people explore their interests and hobbies. People can shop and pay bills online, and they can access news articles and medical information. They can look for jobs, conduct research, take online classes and learn about and apply for crucial government services.

The share of Ohioans with high-speed Internet at home has increased sharply in the last five years, rising to 72 percent last year from 55 percent in 2008, according to the latest Connect Ohio survey of 1,214 residents statewide.

1 in 10 don’t surf Web

But more than one in 10 Ohioans last year said they did not use the Internet, and 5 percent of residents subscribed to dial-up subscription services.

Dial-up services lack the download speed needed for people to properly access many websites and view a slew of online content, including videos, PDFs, e-mail attachments, news articles, social media and other features, officials said.

Some residents said they do not need Internet at home because they can easily access it nearby locations, including at work, coffee shops, the library or many other establishments. About 8 percent of Ohioans only access the Internet outside of home.

But public-access options are limited and inconvenient for some people, such as residents of rural areas. And geography is just one barrier to access.

About one in four Ohioans who do not have broadband Internet at home said they have not subscribed because of the expense, Connect Ohio said. More than two-thirds of the population (37 percent) said the Internet is not relevant to their lives, and 12 percent said they lacked digital literacy skills.

“The fact is, digital literacy, relevancy and cost are really kind of one and the same,” Johnson said. “If you don’t know how to use something, it’s obviously not relevant to your life, and if it’s not relevant, why would you pay a nickel for it?”

About 60 percent of Ohioans without broadband said they would not subscribe at any price, but some people would likely change their minds if they learned more about the benefits of Web connectivity, advocates said.

The digital age has arrived, and Internet access is important for learning, economic opportunities and developing crucial life and work skills, officials said.

Broadband adoption rates are lower among Ohioans without a college education (60 percent); adults with disabilities (58 percent); low-income households (48 percent); and residents 65 and older (46 percent).

“Some people don’t stand a chance unless we help them get access to it,” Johnson said.

Census data released Monday showed that 75 percent of Ohioans in 2012 lived in a household where at least one member had Internet access. About 79.3 percent of U.S. residents lived in households with an Internet connection, and Ohio ranked 37th nationally in this measure, Census data show.

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