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Building Our Next Internet Use Survey

Today, NTIA began seeking public comment on the next edition of our Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which will go into the field in November 2017 and will build on previous research to track the evolving ways Americans are using new information technology.

For more than two decades, the CPS Supplement has been the primary data source for NTIA’s research into who goes online, what devices and applications people use on the Internet, and what barriers stand in the way of all Americans effectively utilizing the latest information technologies. Moreover, researchers and policymakers inside and outside of government rely on our surveys in part because of their large sample size—around 53,000 households—as well as their in-depth questions and public dataset availability.

Throughout much of 2016, NTIA’s Internet use research focused primarily on results from our most recent survey, the July 2015 CPS Supplement. After previewing the data collection, we published six blog posts analyzing the data on such topics like the relationship between privacy and security concerns and online activities, the state of the urban/rural digital divide, and why some households do not use the Internet. NTIA researchers further analyzed the 2015 data in two longer working papers about the digital divide and privacy and security issues, which they presented at a major conference. And our latest dataset is featured alongside two decades’ worth of survey results in NTIA’s Data Explorer visualization tool.

We set out to create a 2017 questionnaire that represents a logical evolution from 2015, keeping questions intact to preserve time-series comparisons where possible, while strategically reworking some portions to yield better and more relevant data. For example, we added a few new online activity questions to learn how Americans are engaging in the sharing economy and publishing their own blog posts, videos, and other original content. We also substantially revised how we ask what technologies households use to access the Internet, recognizing that many respondents now use smartphones to go online and may not think of mobile broadband as a service they use specifically at home, unlike cable, DSL, or other fixed Internet access services.

While we have already incorporated some valuable initial feedback from our partners at the Census Bureau, NTIA is now seeking to improve the 2017 CPS Supplement. At NTIA’s request, Census Bureau experts have begun cognitive testing of the draft survey instrument, recruiting members of the public to take the survey, and learning what questions may cause confusion or elicit inaccurate responses. The Census Bureau will recommend changes aimed at addressing any problems uncovered during this process.

In addition, NTIA is seeking public comment through today’s Federal Register notice on the proposed survey. We welcome feedback from everyone, whether you have used our datasets, followed our research, or are otherwise interested in contributing ideas.

The new 2017 survey—NTIA’s 14th CPS Computer and Internet Use Supplement—will help us continue to advance Internet policy research and better-inform policymakers. We look forward to feedback on our draft questionnaire and to the great opportunities for analysis that the November 2017 survey will create.

Want to keep up-to-date on development of the November 2017 CPS Supplement? Subscribe to the Data Central mailing list to learn about this and other NTIA data news.