Most communication and marketing plans are based on the premise that internet access has become almost ubiquitous. There’s new data out of the U.S. that suggests this is an accurate premise…with important caveats. A new report by the U.S. Department of Commerce confirms that broadband internet access in America is becoming widespread and there’s been dramatic growth in adoption, but also that a digital divide still exists. Here’s a news feature on the report here.   Among the key findings:

  • Between 2001 and 2009, broadband Internet use among American households increased from 9% to 64%;
  • 7 of 10 American households used the internet in 2009, with the majority of those using broadband access at home;
  • Education and income are still the determining factors in the digital divide, but race and location also seems to play a strong role;
  • 68% of white homes and 77% of Asian-American homes have access to high-speed internet; while only 48% of Hispanic homes and 49% of African-American homes have broadband access;
  • By far the main reason for non-adoption of broadband at home is lack of interest or need (rather than high cost, lack of access or equipment) which suggests prevalence among peer networks is an important factor;
  • Only 5 percent of households still use dial-up (modem) internet access.

The missing piece in this study is the rapid growth of mobile technology, and the increasing number of people who access the internet through mobile devices. (The DOC report found 8 percent of households say they access the internet outside the home.) As it happens, there is plenty of evidence that suggests mobile access is also booming. This report from July 2010 by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 60 percent of American adults access the internet through wireless laptops or mobile phones. The statistics I’ve seen of trends outside the United States are – in many cases – even higher.

So what are the implications for communication professionals? On a basic level, marketing and communication plans built on the premise that a majority of the population can be reached through the internet – whether the target is employees, customers or the broader public – are realistic and relevant. But it’s important to look beyond the general statistics and focus on specific audiences and communities, since there is great variation across different income and ethnic groups. The adage still holds true: know your customer.