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Though Most Americans Are Wired, Seniors Lack Internet Access In U.S.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As Google and Facebook crisscross the globe looking for new users, we wanted to check in with how wired we are in the U.S.

LEE RAINIE: Eighty-nine percent of American adults and 95 percent of American teenagers have access to the Internet.

SIEGEL: That's Lee Rainie, director of internet, science and technology research at the Pew Research Center. Those percentages may seem impressive, but Rainie says a large number of Americans are still offline - more than the entire population of Florida.

RAINIE: Probably over 20 million people don't use the Internet at all, don't think that it's relevant to their life or would struggle to use the technology. And probably higher numbers than that don't have smartphones or other mobile-connected devices.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Lee Rainie explains that group is made up of mostly older Americans.

RAINIE: Age 72 seems to be a major cut-off moment. If you're older than that, you're much less likely to have Internet access. They are less well-off. They live in lower-income households, and they have high school diplomas rather than college educations. Rural people are less likely to have broadband connections in their homes. And people who have disabilities also are less likely to use the Internet.

CORNISH: He says a part of the federal stimulus program passed during the Great Recession focused on narrowing this digital gap. It's expanded Internet access in places, including libraries and recreation centers.

RAINIE: There are also ways that people are buying low-cost Internet connections through programs offered by companies like Comcast, which were required to offer low-cost programs when they were allowed to merge with NBC a couple of years ago.

SIEGEL: Lee Rainie of Pew says that when people finally moved to get connected, it's often because they want to stay connected with their loved ones.

RAINIE: One of the things that has talked them onto Facebook or Twitter or something like that is a grandkid. So if you want to see what I'm up to, you want to see pictures of me, this is a real fast way to do that.

SIEGEL: Grandchildren could also keep in mind that the phone works, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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