Households' internet subscription rate averaged 78 percent nationally in the U.S....

Households' internet subscription rate averaged 78 percent nationally in the U.S. Census Bureau's first such five-year estimates, part of the American Community Survey for 2013-2017. Credit: Getty Images/PeopleImages

More than eight in 10 households in Nassau and Suffolk counties subscribe to internet service, significantly higher than the national average and among the top rates in New York and the tri-state region, according to the first five-year assessment of the topic by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nationally, 78 percent of households reported subscribing to a broadband service, the bureau's 2013-2017 American Community Survey released Thursday shows.

Nassau County's rate was estimated at 87.6 percent, second in the state to Putnam County's 89.9 percent, and Suffolk's rate of 85.7 percent tied for third with Saratoga County. When counties in New Jersey and Connecticut were factored in, Nassau stood at fifth in the tri-state region and Suffolk tied with Saratoga in 11th place.

The American Community Survey includes data on dozens of topics for all geographic areas nationwide, including median income, poverty, housing costs and education levels. This was the first five-year survey of internet subscription.

Generally, the bureau found a correlation between median income and high broadband subscription rates, with urban areas most often posting higher rates than rural areas. But disparities could be found within urban regions as well.

"Rural areas were not the only places with low broadband internet subscription rates," the agency said in a statement. "In some large cities, central counties lagged some of the surrounding counties." It noted that the 78 percent subscription rate in Washington, D.C. was below the 93 percent rate in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia.

The bureau's survey of internet subscriptions resulted from the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008, in which the federal government sought to "measure the nationwide development of broadband access and decrease barriers" to it, an agency fact sheet said.

"In short, we asked the question because we need to know if there are places where people aren't accessing the internet," bureau statistician Mike Martin said in an interview this week. "That can then be used by policymakers to try to bring broadband into the community, to find out where the gaps are."

The Broadband Act, he said, "specifically mentions we collect data for Native [American] lands as well, to track broadband deployment, particularly in areas where it's harder to get. In rural areas mostly, it's harder to have the infrastructure for broadband. It costs more to provide the infrastructure in these areas."

The survey put the broadband subscription rate on all Native American lands at 53 percent — far lower than the national average.

That trend was borne out on the Island, where the subscription rate for the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton was 63.6 percent and for the Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic was 76.3 percent — significantly lower than the Suffolk County rate. However, the margin of error for these two small areas was large.

The bureau's five-year survey also looked at the percentage of households that have some kind of computer devices including smartphones, tablets, desktop computers and laptops.

Nationally, Martin said, 87.2 percent reported they have "any sort of computer." He added, "We know some households only have smartphones or a tablet and that's their only means of accessing the internet."

In Nassau, 91.6 percent of households had a computer; in Suffolk, 90.9 percent.

The ubiquity of computers and broad access to the internet has come in just a generation.

Newsday reported in November 1993 that as many as 500,000 users per month were flocking to the internet "expecting to find a fully-paved highway." But for many newcomers, the story continued, "the information highway, without a road map, is a useless maze."

A year later, Newsday reported that Cablevision soon would deliver its subscribers access to the internet using a cable wire, instead of a telephone line. That article noted that only about 5 percent of the nation's households subscribed to an online service, though it was estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent had computers.

Census survey: The local estimates

Here are some estimates for Nassau and Suffolk counties from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2013-2017.


Broadband Internet subscription rate

2013-2017: 87.6 percent

Total households with a computer*

2013-2017: 91.6 percent


Broadband Internet subscription rate

2013-2017: 85.7 percent

Total households with a computer*

2013-2017: 90.9 percent


Median household income

2013-2017: $105,744

2008-2012: $103,878

Poverty rate

2013-2017: 5.9 percent

2008-2012: 5.8 percent 


Median household income

2013-2017: $92,838

2008-2012: $93,884

Poverty rate

2013-2017: 7.2 percent

2008-2012: 6.1 percent 

*Includes smartphones, tablets, desktops and laptops

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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