As one might expect, internet access is more prevalent in metropolitan areas than non-metro areas with close to twice the share of the population not having access to the internet at home in non-metro areas.

The social distancing measures implemented during COVID-19 have required many health services to be offered virtually rather than in-person. For telehealth services, internet access can be critical. However, 2019 data suggest a significant portion of Americans might not have internet access at home. Disparities in internet access across the populations may pose additional health care access concerns during the pandemic. That lack of internet access is most prevalent in rural areas and among historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups is concerning, as this could worsen existing health care disparities. Additionally, elderly Americans may especially require access to health care services virtually while in-person care is being deferred because the elderly are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if infected with COVID-19 and are generally more likely to need medical services. However, nearly 20% of elderly Americans do not have internet access.

This chart collection is based on KFF’s analysis of the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS), 1-year file. The ACS includes a 1% sample of the US population. We excluded people living in noninstitutional group quarters such as college dormitories and residential treatment centers.

The ACS asks: “At this house, apartment, or mobile home – do you or any member of this household have access to the Internet?” Those who reported having internet service, with or without paying a cell phone company or internet service provider, were categorized as having access to the internet. For more information on the ACS survey questions on internet access, see here. For information on how measures of internet access may vary, see here.

We note that the share of the non-institutionalized population in the U.S. without access to the internet at home or without video-capable equipment has steadily decreased between 2016 and 2019. The share of those without access to the internet decreased by three percentage points from 11% of the population to 8% from 2016-2019. Similarly, the share of those without video-capable equipment decreased by 3% percentage points, from 7% to 4% of people. So, the share of population without access to the internet at home has likely decreased in 2020 but a substantial portion of the non-institutionalized population in the U.S. likely continues to lack access to the internet at home in 2020.

The ACS asks respondents about their health insurance coverage at the time of the survey. Respondents may report having more than one type of coverage; however, individuals are sorted into only one category of health insurance. For details on coverage type definitions, see here.

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