Stateline Story

Alaska Tops in Internet Use

Alaska, known for dog-mushing, forests and forget-me-nots, also can boast about its great surfing Internet surfing, that is. According to U.S. Census data, the Land of the Midnight Sun is the most wired state in the nation.

Even though the survey is three years old it ranks states' tech savvy as of 2001 the Census findings are among the best information available about Internet use at the state level, said John Horrigan, director of research at the Pew Internet and American Life Project (which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the same foundation that funds Stateline.org).

Sixty-four percent of Alaskan households were online in 2001.

New Hampshire ranked second in the Census report, with 61 percent of households connected to the Internet. Washington was next, with 60 percent of households connected. Fifty-eight percent of Colorado, Oregon and Maryland households were wired, and 57 percent of New Jersey households could surf the Net.

The Census study, based on the Current Population Survey, found that nationally, 50 percent of households had Internet access in 2001.

But the data refers mostly to Internet users with dial-up connections. Since then, the growth of broadband and its lickety-split linking has changed many home users' Internet experience.

Today, one-fourth of the adult population has broadband -- and that number might be close to one-third in a "wired" state, Horrigan said.

A U.S. Commerce Department report, also released this month, said use of high-bandwidth Internet connections doubled between 2001 and October 2003 to 20 percent of households. But the report showed a low broadband adoption rate among minorities and people in rural areas.

States with the lowest Internet penetration were Mississippi (37 percent), Alabama (38 percent), Arkansas (38 percent), Louisiana (40 percent), and West Virginia (40 percent), the Census report showed.

These states have some of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

In Alaska, Internet videoconferencing connects teachers with 3,800 students in homes scattered across a school district the size of West Virginia, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. Any way you slice it, nearly all of the 586,000 square miles and 245 communities of Alaska would qualify as "rural."

Using a $7.5 million federal grant, Alaska this year funded businesses that plan to bring broadband Internet access to at least 50 remote areas. The Rural Alaska Broadband Internet Access program offered cable companies and telecommunications firms up to 75 percent of the funding for projects to bring high-speed Net access to rural communities, said Catherine Sabrowski, publication specialist with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

Alaska resident Helen Davies said she uses the Internet at her home in the capital of Juneau because long, dark winters make it an attractive entertainment option. The Net also opens up more shopping opportunities than are found locally, Davies said.

Davies said, "I am surprised that we lead the nation because when I go down south, it seems like everyone is wired with their PDAs and wireless laptops."