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Close to nine of every 10 Utah homes now enjoy Internet access the second-highest rate in the nation.
A decade ago, only about half the state's households had Web connections.
"It's almost to the point that you can't even do homework for elementary school without Internet access," Ray Child, spokesman for Internet provider Comcast, said Monday. "A lot of school districts put their homework assignments online and expect students to do a lot of their research on the Internet."
Another way the Web has transformed life lately, he said, is that his company and NBC will have virtually every event of the London Olympics available online the 2012 Summer Games start Friday and many viewers will watch it live not only on TV or computers but also on smartphones and tablets.
"It's available everywhere," he said. "The Internet has not only changed how we watch the Olympics which are huge in Utah because we hosted the Games once but it has changed how we experience entertainment and where."
The latest home Internet stats courtesy of 2010 survey data released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau show that 85.5 percent of Utahns live in homes where the Web is available, ranking behind only New Hampshire, where 86.2 percent of residents have home Internet access.
A study last year by two technical agencies within the U.S. Department of Commerce had ranked Utah No. 1 in access with New Hampshire at No. 2. The latest census estimates has those states switching places while showing that both places continue to improve overall Internet access.
Census estimates show the new 85.5 percent access for Utah homes in 2010 was up from 83.1 percent in 2009 and an increase from 54 percent in 2001.
Utah's Internet access is nearly 10 percentage points above the national average of 75.9 percent. New Mexico (64.1 percent) had the lowest Internet access rate in the U.S.
University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich said one reason Utah ranks so highly is its youngest-in-the-nation population and young people are especially heavy and comfortable Internet users.
"There's a generational shift in Internet skills and involvement in social media," she said, noting, however, that new easier-to-use tablets and computer programming have made the Web easier for all ages.
Another reason for Utah's lofty ranking, she says, is "We have pretty good Internet infrastructure in the state." Most of the population lives along the Wasatch Front where the Internet was available early, partly because of high demand from many high-tech or research firms located there.
In fact, the University of Utah was part of a small four-university computer network with University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford and the University of California, Santa Barbara that was an early precursor of the Internet.
"All of that attracts and retains a population in the state that very much requires Internet access," Perlich said. And she notes many libraries, restaurants and stores offer free Wi-Fi connections, "so Internet access doesn't even depend on a person having access at home."
In fact, new census figures show that while 73 percent of Utahns report using the Internet at home, 40 percent also connect from other locations. The census reported that 76 percent of Utah homes had desktop or laptop computers and 31.6 percent had handheld devices such as smartphones or tablets.
Child said the Internet has become such a necessity even for schoolchildren that his company offers families whose kids qualify for free or reduced school lunches Internet access for $9.99 a month and vouchers to allow them to obtain a home computer for $150.
The program's name: Internet Essentials. firstname.lastname@example.org
Internet access at home
1. New Hampshire, 86.2 percent.
2. Utah, 85.5 percent.
3. Washington, 83.6 percent.
4. Massachusetts, 83.4 percent.
5. Connecticut, 83.0 percent.
National average: 75.9 percent.
Source: 2010 Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau