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Growing the Internet 19 November 2020

Insights from Internet Society’s 2020 Public Pulse Survey

Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how critical the Internet is to daily life – a point further emphasized in a recent public pulse survey from the Internet Society, a global non-profit promoting the development and use of an open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy Internet.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated that the Internet has become much more important in their lives as a result of the pandemic. Accessibility and reliability were listed as the most important aspects of the Internet. However, the majority of respondents were unaware of the extent of the digital divide – only one in four knew that almost half the world population lacks access to the Internet.

The independent public pulse survey commissioned by the Internet Society was conducted online among 2,000 respondents age 18+ in the United States and the United Kingdom – two of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 – to gauge consumers’ use of the Internet and their shifting perceptions of the Internet during the pandemic.

Results

Respondents in the U.S. and U.K. agree, as a result of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, the Internet is more important. About half say the Internet is ‘a lot’ more important in both countries.

Most respondents in the U.S. and U.K. say they are using the Internet more often to check websites for news, make online purchases, communicate with others, and watch TV or movies.

Change in Internet Usage

U.S.

Increased a lot

Increased somewhat

A lot + Somewhat

Checking websites for news and information

33%

33%

66%

Making purchases online

31%

33%

64%

Communicating with friends & family

29%

34%

63%

Watching TV shows and movies online

35%

27%

62%

Checking websites for health information or telemedicine

21%

30%

51%

Using education and training websites

22%

19%

41%

Working from home

26%

13%

39%

Change in Internet Usage

U.K.

Increased
a lot

Increased somewhat

A lot + Somewhat

Checking websites for news and information

31%

37%

68%

Making purchases online

22%

34%

56%

Communicating with friends & family

31%

34%

65%

Watching TV shows and movies online

29%

27%

56%

Checking websites for health information or telemedicine

16%

31%

47%

Using education and training websites

16%

20%

36%

Working from home

25%

14%

39%

Sub-group data provides more context.

Access and reliability are increasingly important as a result of COVID-19. Over a third say the importance of access and reliability has increased ‘a lot.’

Change in Important Aspects of the Internet

U.S.

Increased a lot in importance

Increased somewhat in importance

Increased
A lot + Somewhat in importance

Access

42%

26%

68%

Reliability

42%

25%

67%

Security

35%

22%

57%

Bandwidth

30%

26%

56%

Affordability

32%

24%

56%

Change in Important Aspects of the Internet

U.K.

Increased a lot in importance

Increased somewhat in importance

Increased
A lot + Somewhat in importance

Access

38%

28%

66%

Reliability

37%

28%

65%

Security

30%

24%

54%

Bandwidth

24%

23%

47%

Affordability

26%

25%

51%

Those aged 18-34 in the U.S. and the U.K. are more likely to say bandwidth and affordability have increased in importance. In the U.K., this same age group is also more likely to say access has increased ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ in importance.

Change in Important Aspects of the Internet

U.S. – by age

% Increased a lot in importance + Increased somewhat in importance

All respondents

(n=1,040)

18-34

(n=309)

35-54

(n=362)

55+

(n=368)

Access

68%

70%

72%

59%

Reliability

67%

71%

69%

60%

Security

57%

57%

61%

50%

Bandwidth

56%

63%

61%

39%

Affordability

56%

63%

58%

43%

Change in Important Aspects of the Internet

U.K. – by age

% Increased a lot in importance + Increased somewhat in importance

All respondents

(n=1,100)

18-34

(n=340)

35-54

(n=385)

55+

(n=375)

Access

66%

81%

71%

51%

Reliability

65%

73%

70%

53%

Security

54%

62%

59%

42%

Bandwidth

47%

57%

57%

29%

Affordability

51%

61%

58%

36%

When asked to rank the most important aspects of the Internet, well over half in the U.S. and U.K. ranked reliability as either the first or second most important. Access followed as a close second to reliability with just under half ranking it as either first or second most important.

As the first wave of COVID-19 spread around the world, more than a billion children worldwide were sent home from school in a matter of weeks[1], ostensibly to continue classes online. Yet schools struggled during those first weeks of the pandemic as they confronted the realities of disparate access to technology and connectivity for their students.

However, a majority of respondents in the U.S. and U.K. do not realize what percentage of the world population does not have access to the Internet – only about one in four are aware that less than 50 percent of the world does not have access.

Three-fourths of respondents in the U.S. and the U.K. say the Internet is critical in keeping them connected and that COVID-19 has made access to the Internet critical to their everyday lives. Interestingly, only around a third of respondents say lack of access to the Internet is a serious issue in their community.

Agreement with Statements

U.S.

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Strongly + somewhat agree

The Internet is critical in keeping me connected to friends and loved ones

45%

30%

75%

The COVID-19 pandemic has made access to the Internet more critical to my everyday life than ever before

46%

28%

74%

I would not be able to do my job if I had no access to the Internet at home

37%

17%

54%

My children would not be able to continue their education if we did not have access to the Internet at home

36%

20%

56%

Lack of Internet access is a serious issue in my community

20%

19%

39%

Agreement with Statements

U.K.

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Strongly + somewhat agree

The Internet is critical in keeping me connected to friends and loved ones

43%

34%

77%

The COVID-19 pandemic has made access to the Internet more critical to my everyday life than ever before

39%

36%

75%

I would not be able to do my job if I had no access to the Internet at home

29%

18%

47%

My children would not be able to continue their education if we did not have access to the Internet at home

24%

19%

43%

Lack of Internet access is a serious issue in my community

17%

17%

34%

There is agreement that the onus is on Internet service providers for managing secure and reliable access to the Internet. About half say they are ‘extremely responsible’. Fewer believe non-profits have a major responsibility in managing secure and reliable access to the Internet.

Responsibility for secure and reliable Internet Access

U.S.

Extremely responsible

Very responsible

Somewhat responsible

Internet Service Providers (e.g., Verizon, Virgin Media, AT&T)

47%

27%

13%

Tech companies (e.g., Google, Apple, Microsoft)

41%

31%

15%

Government entities (e.g., U.S., U.K., Korea)

34%

23%

21%

Non-profits with no ties to government, private or public companies

18%

23%

24%

Responsibility for secure and reliable Internet Access

U.K.

Extremely responsible

Very responsible

Somewhat responsible

Internet Service Providers (e.g., Verizon, Virgin Media, AT&T)

47%

29%

15%

Tech companies (e.g., Google, Apple, Microsoft)

40%

31%

18%

Government entities (e.g., U.S., U.K., Korea)

34%

30%

21%

Non-profits with no ties to government, private or public companies

16%

23%

28%

An overwhelming majority agree the Internet should remain open and not managed by a single entity. Well over half ‘strongly agree’ with this. Overall, there is no statistical difference between age groups – although those in the U.K. that are 55 + are more likely to ‘strongly agree’.

Level of Agreement

U.S. – by age

All respondents (n=1,040)

18-34

(n=309)

35-54

(n=362)

55+

(n=368)

Strongly agree

60%

58%

61%

61%

Somewhat agree

24%

26%

24%

22%

Total Agree: Strongly + Somewhat agree

84%

83%

85%

83%

Level of Agreement

U.K. – by age

All respondents (n=1,100)

18-34

(n=340)

35-54

(n=385)

55+

(n=375)

Strongly agree

57%

48%

52%

70%

Somewhat agree

27%

32%

30%

20%

Total Agree: Strongly + Somewhat agree

83%

79%

81%

89%

When asked to choose which of five technologies respondents would be least likely to give up, the top item in the U.K. was the Internet (36%), followed by mobile phones (22%). Among U.S. respondents, the Internet (28%) and the mobile phone (26%) were a virtual tie.

About the Internet Society

Founded in 1992 by Internet pioneers, the Internet Society (ISOC) is a global non-profit organization working to ensure the Internet remains a force for good for everyone. Through its community of members, special interest groups, and 120+ chapters around the world, the organization defends and promotes Internet policies, standards, and protocols that keep the Internet open, globally connected, and secure. For more information, please visit: internetsociety.org.


Endnotes

[1] https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

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