Internet Access and Online Services
For many citizens, the Internet has become the de facto source for information and services -- which makes it more important than ever that government put its business online and help ensure equal access for all citizens.
Why is This Important?
information and services
online makes it easier
for Virginians to interact directly
with state agencies and
other institutions and helps government increase
accountability, and responsiveness.
Government can also become
more efficient by eliminating redundant
tasks and reducing paperwork
and storage needs.
However, it is important to reach every citizen and to eliminate potential barriers to Internet access. As a result, both Federal and state laws require government information and services on the Web to be equally accessible to all persons, regardless of disability.
Other issues, such as reliable access to high-speed broadband, are increasingly important as Web content becomes more complex and more pervasive. Increasingly, vital information, processes, and connections are happening -- often exclusively -- online, meaning that citizens and businesses alike need these digital tools to reach their fullest potential. In fact, broadband networks are now viewed in economic development circles as “critical infrastructure," affecting the potential for economic growth in a locality or region and its ability to attract the most highly skilled workers or dynamic firms.
How is Virginia Doing?
Virginia earns good marks nationally for
its digital government, though its status as a digital pioneer has faded as other states have caught up. Through its Digital
States Survey, the non-profit Center for Digital Government
independently assesses how well state governments use
study compiles its rankings based on the availability
of government services online, as well as citizen usage.
In 2012, the Center ranked Virginia among the top 16 states in use of digital technologies. Michigan and Utah received the highest scores with a grade of “A,” while Tennessee and five other states received a grade of “A-." Along with 7 other states, Virginia rated “B+," while Maryland and North Carolina each got a "B-."
National Rankings for Effective Digital Government Services
|A-||Tennessee (with 5 other states)|
|B+||Virginia (with 7 other states)|
|B-||Maryland, North Carolina (with 5 other states)|
|Source: Center for Digital Government State Rankings, 2012.|
The Center makes similar awards to cities and counties based on population size, and Virginia continues to acquit itself well. Recent results are below:
|Source: Center for Digital Government City and County Rankings, 2013.|
|Ranking Virginia Counties, 2013 Digital Counties Survey|
|500,000 +||250,000-499,999||150,000-249,999||Less than 150,000|
|Fairfax Co.--3rd||Chesterfield Co.--1st
|Arlington Co. -- 2nd||
|Ranking Virginia Cities, 2013 Digital Cities Survey|
|Virginia Beach: 5th|| Alexandria: 3rd
In 2012 Virginia ranked 31st in the percentage of people (75.4%) who use the Internet from any location (work, home, or elsewhere). This level is lower than Maryland (81.0%) but higher than North Carolina (73.1%) and Tennessee (69.1%). The U.S. average is 74.9 percent, while New Hampshire leads the nation at 83.5 percent.
Most U.S. households access the Internet through a broadband Internet subscription (be it via cable, fiber optic, DSL, or satellite). In Virginia, 75.4 percent of households do so, compared to a national average of 72.9 percent. Maryland has a higher percentage of connected households (78.5%), while both North Carolina (702%) and Tennessee (66.5%) are lower than Virginia. The top-ranked state for households with broadband subscriptions is New Hampshire at 80.5%.
The United States lags behind many developed countries in the cost, speed, and choice of providers available for broadband services. Although the U.S. ranked 2nd (behind China) for the total number of broadband subscribers in early 2013, it fell well behind Japan, Korea, and Northern Europe for both average download speeds and monthly cost per mbps (megabytes per second).
Accurately gauging broadband and speeds can sometimes be tricky. Provider networks are usually very large and complex. Usage patterns vary greatly -- sometimes predictably, sometimes not. And thanks largely to the explosion of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, overall demand for broadband services is increasing rapidly, further limiting available bandwidth and affecting the reliability of optimal speeds.
A Question of Access. According to the national broadband map created by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Virginia ranks 37th in the percentage of residents in proximity to access points with broadband speeds of 3 mbps or greater, up from 41st in 2012. With 98.2 percent access, Virginia ranks lower than all its peer states (Maryland at 99.9%, North Carolina at 98.5%, and Tennessee at 98.3%) -- and lower than the national average of 99 percent.
The Commonwealth has initiatives in place to expand access to affordable high-speed / broadband services -- via fiber optic (FTTx), cable, DSL, satellite, or mobile. For example, the Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance (OTPBA) helps underserved communities in the Commonwealth obtain broadband infrastructure; it also publishes several statistical analyses, including a broadband access map of Virginia, detailing where such service is available and by what method. According to the OTPBA, as of early 2014 more than one-quarter of residents lacked broadband access in over 30 percent of Virginia's cities and counties.
Regional disparities. There tend to be significant regional differences in broadband access within Virginia. Nearly 100 percent of the Northern and Hampton Roads regions have reliable access to broadband. These two highly urbanized regions have a wide variety of access methods, including those providing the fastest speeds: fixed fiber optic, cable, fixed wireless, DSL, and 4G wireless.
By contrast, Virginia's rural areas all have satellite access, but other available methods -- 3G and 4G wireless, DSL, and cable -- have incomplete coverage. Cost concerns can also be a more significant factor in rural Virginia, which typically has lower personal income and higher unemployment rates -- but Internet access packages that are no cheaper than anywhere else. In fact, satellite access (the only universally available method) can be quite expensive; more affordable packages limit speeds and the amount of data and time online.
The two regions in Virginia where broadband access is lowest are in the heavily rural regions of Southside and Southwest; although broadband access greatly improved from 2012 (86.2% and 84.9%), rates in Southside (93.5%) and Southwest (92.1%) for 2013 are still well below Virginia's other regions.
What Influences Internet Access and Online Services?
Gaps also persist in Internet usage among various demographic groups. This digital divide is largely driven by differences in age, education, and household income. According to a 2012 PEW Internet & American Life study, being 65 or older, lacking a high school education, and having an anual household income below $20,000 are the strongest negative predictors of Internet use. And although usage rates for blacks and Hispanics remain lower than for whites, the gaps between them have narrowed markedly since 2000: Current levels show 80% usage for whites, with black non-Hispanics at 71% and Hispanics only marginally lower at 68%. Usage also varies by disability status.
The explosion in smartphone adoption is helping level off many traditional differences in Internet access, and therefore use. Groups that had typically been on the other side of the digital divide are gaining access via their mobile phones, including those with no college experience or with low household incomes; many of these cite mobile phones as their sole source for Internet acess.
What is the State's Role?
Virginia has an integrated vision for information technology use in the state that includes Internet strategies and requirements, which is followed by all state executive branch agencies and managed by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA).
State and regional economic developers recognize the important competitive advantages that ready access to broadband confers and work to improve accessibility.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data Definitions and Sources
Internet Use by State
U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey: Computer and Internet Use
PEW Internet & American Life, Digital Differences (with 2012 updates to their August 2011 survey)
Households with Broadband Subscriptions by State
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (1-year estimates)
Global ranking and comparisons:
- World Broadband Statistics: Q1 2013, POINTtopic, June 2013 PDF
- Internet Speeds and Costs Around the World (infographic of OECD and ITIF Broadband Rankings)
U.S. broadband access:
- National Broadband Map, http://broadbandmap.gov/
(Broadband is defined here as speed greater than or equal to 3 megabytes per second downstream
and 768 kbps kilobytes per second, and
is based on advertised maximum speeds)
Virginia broadband access:
- Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Access, www.wired.virginia.gov/broadband/virginia-statistics/
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.