10 things you take for granted when you have internet access

Be honest: When you woke up this morning, how long was it before you first checked your smartphone? Did you reach for it at breakfast? Or were you still in bed?

Almost half of Americans (46%) admit they check their smartphones as soon as they wake up, rising to two-thirds (66%) among 18- to 24-year-olds, according to a survey by ReportLinker.

It’s second nature for many of us to want to know what’s going on in the world and what the weather’s like before we’ve even looked out of the window. But nearly half the world doesn’t have that luxury.

Closing the internet access gap

At the end of 2019, only 53.6% of the global population (or 4.1 billion people), were using the internet, according to the UN’s International Telecommunications Union. Even in the U.S., 10% of adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center still don’t use the internet at all. That figure rises to 15% in rural parts of the country, where the availability of high-speed broadband is often limited.

internet use chart

To help close the access gap among rural American communities, the Microsoft Airband Initiative is partnering with organizations to utilize TV white space – unused TV frequencies – and other low-cost wireless technologies.

[READ MORE: How unused TV frequencies can connect rural areas to the digital world]

Airband is making it easier and more affordable for people to participate in today’s economy – and do those small everyday online things that people with easy access take for granted.

Here are just 10 ways we benefit from being online:

Instant communication

The days of a landline in every home are waning, as cell phones and instant messaging apps take over. More than half of American households (57.1%) only had cell phones – and no landline – during the second half of 2018, an increase of 3.2% in a year. Teens in the U.S. now actually prefer communicating by text message than face-to-face, according to a survey by non-profit organization Common Sense. And, as many parents will know, today’s toddlers get confused when they can’t see their faraway grandparents if they ring the landline.

teen use of smartphones


Flexible working is the new normal, according to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report 2019. More than 70% of IT and software companies surveyed allowed remote working, and it’s been shown to increase productivity and reduce staff turnover. But it’s only possible with internet access to share documents and communicate. Internet access also helps people find jobs. For example, 77% of recruiters are on LinkedIn and jobseekers spend up to 30 minutes a day on the platform.

[READ MORE: The path to prosperity through access to high-speed internet]

Health care

The internet has permeated every aspect of our health and fitness. One in five Americans regularly wears a smart watch or fitness tracker, according to the Pew Research Center, while search engines process tens of thousands of health-related queries every minute. Patients increasingly expect to be able to book appointments, fill prescriptions and communicate with health providers online, according to Accenture’s latest Digital Health Consumer Survey. There’s also a growing market for personalized medical care, such as smart devices that can monitor a patient at home.

Growing food

Modern agriculture is now a high-tech industry, with large-scale farms using everything from satellite imagery to self-driving tractors. The combination of connected sensors and artificial intelligence is helping farmers boost yields by making smarter decisions about planting times, seed types, irrigation and fertilizer use. Now these benefits are being brought to smallholder farmers across the developing world as well, thanks to apps such as SunCulture’s AgOptimized app, which uses Microsoft Azure.

Receiving and giving support

Online support groups, such as Elefriends from the U.K. charity Mind, can be a lifeline for those who use them. Peer support on social media platforms can prove invaluable for people waiting to receive professional help. As one case study described it on Mind’s website: “I can honestly say that online support groups helped me when no one else was there for me.”

Help with homework

Education has moved into the digital era, creating a “homework gap” for those who don’t have easy access to the internet. A survey, carried out for educational non-profit organization Project Tomorrow, found 13% of students in grades 6-12 say they sometimes cannot do homework or schoolwork due to a lack of digital access outside of school.

digital access at school

Checking the weather

You don’t even have to look out the window or wait for the forecast on the radio: “Weather” is among the most popular search terms – with 24.4 million monthly searches in 2018. And with hour-by-hour forecasts on apps, it makes planning your day – and avoiding downpours – much easier.

[READ MORE: What telephones and television can teach us about the adoption of broadband]


Everyday payments and transactions no longer require a physical trip into town. In the U.K., the Office for National Statistics found 93% of 25- to 34-year-olds had banked online in 2018, compared to 14% of those aged over 80.

Finding love

The “how we met” story is changing. For many people in younger generations, the answer will be “on the internet,” as almost 40% of U.S. couples now meet online, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was the most common way for U.S. couples to meet in 2017, followed by 27% who met in a bar or restaurant. In 2019, 25 million people were using dating apps.

Streaming entertainment

Online streaming services have come to dominate the entertainment industry. Forbes reports that millennials now watch more online video than traditional television, whether it’s jumping on the latest must-watch TV show, or sharing yet another cat video.

For more on how Microsoft is closing the internet access gap, visit Rural Broadband. And follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.