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Press Release · June 26, 2013

Big Gains in Californians’ Use of Cell Phones, Tablets to Go Online

Social Networking Vies with Shopping as Most Common Internet Activities

SAN FRANCISCO, June 26, 2013—Californians have sharply increased their use of cell phones or tablet computers to go online in the last two years, and they are much more likely to use social networking sites. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). It is the fourth in a series focusing on information technology issues and was conducted with funding from the California Emerging Technology Fund and ZeroDivide.

Nearly all Californians (92%) say they have a cell phone, and 58 percent of them have a smartphone—up from 39 percent in 2011. Most Californians (56%) use their cell phones to access the Internet or email —up 37 points since 2008 and 16 points from 2011. The share of Californians using cell phones to go online declines with age, increases with income, and is much more prevalent among blacks than among other ethnic/racial groups.

Just over a third of adults (36%) own a tablet computer, up from 14 percent in 2011. Today, 32 percent of Californians use their tablets to go online—up from 11 percent in 2011. Internet access with a tablet computer is more prevalent among Asians and whites than among other racial/ethnic groups and among San Francisco Bay Area residents compared to those in other regions. Overall, Californians are more likely to go online using their laptop computers (57%) or cell phones (56%) than their desktop computers (48%) or tablets (32%). They are less likely to use their desktop computers than in 2011 (56% 2011, 48% today). Fewer Californians go online with game consoles (16%) or electronic book readers (11%).

“Californians are becoming increasingly mobile in their Internet use, with double-digit gains over time in using cell phones and tablet computers and a decline in desktop computer access,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Still, a digital divide persists that favors the young, wealthy, educated, and whites over residents who are older, lower income, less educated and Latino.”

Just 14 percent of Californians don’t use the Internet or email. About a third (35%) say they are unable to because, for example, it’s too difficult or they’re too old to learn. Another third (34%) cite a general lack of interest. And 23 percent cite cost or lack of access.

Nearly all Californians (86%) use the Internet at least occasionally. Social networking now rivals the purchase of goods and services as the top Internet activity: Among all adults, 60 percent buy goods and services, while 57 percent go to a social networking site—an increase of 31 points since 2008. More than half go online for health or medical information (55%) or to do banking or manage finances (53%). Nearly half look for information about a job (48%) or access government resources (47%). Fewer go online to apply for a job (40%), for educational purposes (39%), to use Twitter specifically (33%), or to contact a health insurance provider or doctor (32%). The percentage using Twitter is up 15 points from 2009.

Latinos, as well as Californians who are older or less affluent, are less likely to engage in many of these online activities. Higher-income residents are three times more likely than those with lower incomes to contact a medical professional online, and Latinos are the least likely among racial/ethnic groups to do so. Adults with household incomes of $40,000 or more are far more likely than those with lower incomes to access government resources online.

What devices do Californians use for online activities? They are as likely to use a tablet as a desktop or laptop for Twitter or other social networking sites. But they are far less likely to use a tablet or cell phone to do online banking. Few use a cell phone to access government resources, apply for a job, contact a medical professional, or for educational purposes. This is important because 37 percent of cell-phone Internet users use mostly their phones to go online—a 12-point increase from 2011. In this group, 27 percent say a cell phone is the only way they go online. Latino (60%) and lower-income cell-phone Internet users (55% with incomes under $40,000) are far more likely than whites (22%) and higher-income residents (20% with incomes of $80,000 or more) to say they use mostly their phones to go online.

Digital Divide in Broadband Access

Today, 69 percent of Californians have high-speed broadband access at home. A digital divide remains among regional and demographic groups. Among those with household incomes of $80,000 or more, 92 percent have broadband at home, compared to 53 percent of Californians with incomes under $40,000. And 88 percent of college graduates have home access, compared to just 47 percent of those with a high school diploma or less. Across racial/ethnic groups, half of Latinos (52%) have broadband at home, compared to strong majorities of blacks (71%), Asians (75%), and whites (81%). Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area (80%) and Orange/San Diego (77%) are more likely to have a home broadband connection than those in the Inland Empire (68%), Los Angeles (64%), or the Central Valley (60%).

Asked for their views on the value of broadband access, a majority of Californians (56%) say people without it are at a major disadvantage when it comes to finding information about job opportunities or gaining new career skills (25% say minor disadvantage). About three-quarters of adults say lack of broadband access is a disadvantage in getting health information (major disadvantage 45%, minor disadvantage 31%) or using government services (40% major, 33% minor). Most Californians also say children without broadband access at home are at a disadvantage (44% major, minor 26%).

Californians Increasingly Mobile in Internet Use

Most Internet users go online several times a day (52%) or about once a day (19%). They increasingly access the Internet from someplace other than home or work: 29 percent do so several times a day (17% in 2011) and 10 percent do so about once a day (6% in 2011). Just 29 percent say they never go online away from home or work, compared to 42 percent in 2011.

While the use of smartphones has increased across all political, regional, and demographic groups, some groups are more likely than others to have them. Age plays a major role: 78 percent of cell phone users age 18–34 have a smartphone, compared to 59 percent of those age 35–54 and 33 percent of those age 55 or older. Use of a smartphone also increases with income and education level. Most cell phone users (82%) say they use their phones to send or receive text messages. More than half send or receive email messages (56%) or download apps (53%).

What would life be like without a cell phone? A third of cell phone users (33%) say they would miss having one but could probably do without, while 36 percent say they could probably do without their phone. And 29 percent cannot imagine living without one.

Most Parents Visit School Websites, Far Fewer Get Schoolwork Online

Nearly all Californians say it is very important (77%) or somewhat important (19%) for the state’s public schools to teach students computer and Internet skills. Overwhelming majorities across parties, regions, ages, education levels, and incomes consider teaching these skills very important.

Baldassare notes: “Californians believe that success for the future generation is tied to access and knowledge of information technology, with consensus that teaching computer and Internet skills is very important for public school students. Many say that children are at a disadvantage if they are without high-speed access to the Internet at home.”

A majority of parents of children age 18 or younger visit the website of their child’s school (30% often, 33% sometimes), and 37 percent do not. Among those who do not, 59 percent say the school has a website, 15 percent say it does not, and 26 percent are unsure. Higher-income parents are more likely to visit the school website, and white parents (45% often, 38% sometimes) are far more likely than Latino parents (17% often, 26% sometimes) to do so.

Overall, the percentage of parents who receive their child’s homework assignments by email or on the Internet has changed little since 2008 (28% 2008, 34% 2009, 32% 2011, 33% today). Most parents (67%) do not receive their child’s homework assignments online, while 15 percent do so often and 18 percent sometimes do so. Among those who do not, 16 percent say teachers do send assignments online, 74 percent say teachers do not, and 10 percent are unsure. About half of parents say they use email to communicate with their child’s teachers (20% often, 28% sometimes), and half (52%) say they don’t. Among those who do not, 24 percent say the teacher uses email to communicate with parents, 62 percent say the teacher does not, and 14 percent are unsure. Demographic distinctions are sharp: 79 percent of upper-income parents and 69 percent of middle-income parents communicate with a teacher by email, while 75 percent of lower-income parents don’t. And 73 percent of whites do so, while 72 percent of Latino parents do not.

More than half of parents say they go online (22% often, 33% sometimes) to help their child with schoolwork, and 44 percent say they don’t. About half of Latino parents say they go online (20% often, 30% sometimes) to do so. The share of parents who go online to help with schoolwork increases with income.

Asked whether their child uses the Internet, either on a computer or cell phone, 84 percent of parents say yes. More than three-quarters of parents across income groups and a strong majority of Latinos (78%) say their child uses the Internet. With Internet use widespread among children, how concerned are parents about online safety? Most parents of young Internet users (67%) say they are very worried (33%) or somewhat worried (34%) about their child’s safety online. More than half (54%) say they have used parental controls or other ways of blocking, filtering, or monitoring their child’s online activities, and 45 percent say they have not.

Minority Say Government Should Do More To Improve Access

Given their views of the importance of broadband access, what do Californians think about the government’s role in improving access to high-speed Internet technology? Most say the government is doing just enough (39%) or more than enough (16%), while 26 percent say it is not doing enough and 18 percent are unsure. While most Californians say it is important for the federal government to expand affordable high-speed Internet access to everyone in the nation, just 17 percent consider it a top priority. Most (66%) nevertheless view having a high-speed Internet connection as a public utility that everyone should be able to access, while 28 percent view it as a luxury that some people may not be able to access. Two-thirds (67%) would favor a government program funded by telecommunications providers to increase broadband access for lower-income and rural residents through subsidies.


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, advocacy-free information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This is the fourth in a series of surveys focusing on information technology and is funded with grants from California Emerging Technology Fund and ZeroDivide. Findings are based on a survey of 2,502 California adult residents, including 2,001 interviewed on landline telephones and 501 interviewed on cell phones. Interviews were conducted from June 4–18, 2013, in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean, according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±2.9 percent for all adults. It is ±3.3 percent for the 1,936 registered voters and ±3.8 percent for the 1,449 likely voters. It is ±3.2 percent for the 2,045 Internet users, ±3.5 percent for the 1,681 users of broadband at home, ±3.1 percent for the 2,087 cell phone users, ±4.1 percent for the 1,146 cell phone Internet users, and ±4.7 percent for the 789 parents. For more information on methodology, see page 24.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.