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Dropping the Internet: Who and why?

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by Larry McKeown and Cathy Underhill, SIEID, Statistics Canada

Internet use is an important hallmark for participation in an information society. Although 68% of adult Canadians went online for personal, non-business reasons in 2005, digital inequality persists both geographically and among certain population groups. While much research and policy attention has been aimed at understanding the barriers to Internet use, there were an estimated 850,000 Canadians who had used the Internet at one time but were no longer doing so in 2005. Who are these former users and why have they discontinued their use of the Internet?

About this article
About the authors

About this article

This article uses data from the 2005 Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS), conducted as a supplement to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in November 2005. More than 30,000 Canadians aged 18 years and over, excluding residents of the territories, inmates of institutions, persons living on Indian reserves, and full-time members of the Canadian Forces, were asked about their Internet use for a 12 month period. CIUS replaces the Household Internet Use Survey (HIUS), conducted from 1997 to 2003, which focused on households. The new focus on individuals conforms more closely to international standards but precludes comparisons with previous estimates in many cases.

More information about the Canadian Internet Use Survey is available here.


Internet users – Respondents who reported using the Internet for personal, non-business reasons during the previous 12 months from any location including home, work, school, library or elsewhere.

Former users/Internet dropouts – Respondents who reported using the Internet for personal, non-business reasons in the past, but not during the previous 12 months.

Non users – Respondents who reported never using the Internet for personal, non-business reasons.


As technology is diffused across the country and over time, the measures used to monitor the access and use of this technology must also evolve. While early research examined the readiness of Canadians to adopt the Internet, focusing on rates of household connectedness (Dickinson and Ellison 2000), subsequent work began to examine why and how individual Canadians used the Internet (Dryburgh 2001), the barriers to access (Lenhart 2002), and the factors influencing the ‘digital divide', or the gap in Internet use between certain groups (Sciadas 2002).

More recent studies have begun to investigate the impact of the Internet on Canadian society, including the daily time-use patterns of Canadians (Veenhof 2006) and the expected outcomes of the information society, which have so far not materialized, such as the ‘paperless office', the demise of traditional retail, and ‘the death of distance' (Sciadas 2006). Less research and policy attention has been directed towards former users of the Internet (Crompton, Ellison and Stevenson 2002).


From access to impacts

Using data from the 2005 Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS), this study examines three groups of Canadian adults.  The Internet users group includes the 68% of adult Canadians who went online during 2005 for personal, non-business reasons. Those who did not use the Internet during 2005 were further divided into two groups: non users (28%); and former users or ‘Internet dropouts' (4%). In particular, this article compares the three groups on the basis of selected socio-economic characteristics, and examines the reasons for the discontinued use of the Internet by the group of former users.

Canada's Internet dropouts

While being a former Internet user is a temporary state for some—the result of changing jobs or leaving school, for example—it appears to be more permanent for others. More than half (55%) had stopped using the Internet within the last two years. Almost one-third (31%) had used the Internet between two and five years prior to the reference period, while the remainder (13%) had used it more than five years ago. During their past Internet use, almost one-quarter (24%) of former users reported being online daily, while 30% used it at least once a week; the remaining 47% of former users accessed it less often. This suggests that at the time of their Internet use, former users included both regular and more occasional users.

Former users were also asked about the location of their past use. Over 60% had used it from home, significantly less than the 90% of Internet users reporting use from home. Less than 20% had used it from work in the past and 13% from school. About 15% reported using the Internet from another location, particularly at the home of a relative, friend or neighbour.


It appears that former users fall somewhere in between the other groups with respect to selected socio-economic characteristics (Table 1). Former users were somewhat older on average than Internet users but significantly younger than non users. However, they were made up of a disproportionate number of men compared to either of the other two groups. As for level of education, former users were significantly less likely than Internetusers to hold a university degree but more likely than non users. Likewise, former users were more apt to live in a household with lower income than were users. Perhaps less surprising, given their older age on average, former users were less likely to live in households with children but, again, more likely than non users.

Table 1 Percentage of Canadians aged 18 and older by selected socio-economic characteristics and Internet status, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Percentage of Canadians aged 18 and older by selected socio-economic characteristics and Internet status, 2005

It appears that the residential location of former users was quite similar to that of non users. In both groups there is a larger proportion living in smaller towns and rural areas (i.e. non-urban) compared with the Internet users group. On balance, while there are certain characteristics among former users, they appear not to represent a homogeneous group; different types of people dropped the Internet, but why did these former users stop their Internet use?


Former Internet users were asked to report the reasons for their discontinued use. Over 85% cited just one main reason why they no longer used the Internet.1 In order to examine these responses, a typology of four categories of reasons was adopted based on Lenhart's (2002) analysis of the American experience (Chart 1).

The first category is personal reasons: These include ‘no need, no interest, no time or Internet use was too difficult'; more than half (59%) of former users gave such reasons. About one in four (26%) former users reported a computer-related reason for no longer using the Internet, including the ‘unavailability of a device or broken equipment'. One in five (20%) reported an access issue, such as ‘too costly, changed jobs or left school' as the reason they no longer used the Internet. Finally, less than one in ten reported another reason such as ‘privacy concerns, fear of disclosing personal information or objectionable content' (denoted as ‘other' in Chart 1).

Of the former users, males were more likely than females to report personal reasons (61% versus 56%) for no longer using the Internet and less likely to report reasons related to access (18% versus 22%). And on average, former users who reported ‘other reasons' for no longer going online tended to be slightly older (49 years) than those who reported computer-related reasons (42 years). Almost one-third of former users indicated they planned to start using the Internet for personal non-business reasons from any location in the next 12 months. The average age of former users with such plans was 42 years, compared to 46 years for those with no such plans.

Chart 1 Percentage of former users citing reasons for no longer using the Internet, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 1 Percentage of former users citing reasons for no longer using the Internet, 2005

More than 70% of those who stopped using the Internet within the last two years planned to start again during the next 12 months. Again, this may suggest that many former users consist of younger adults who find themselves in transition and have stopped using the Internet on a temporary basis (e.g. due to changing employment or living arrangements, unavailability of a device). Other former users are from an older demographic group that reported no need or interest in using the Internet. It is possible that these former users may have stopped using the Internet on a more permanent basis.


The Internet has become part of the everyday life of many Canadians. This study examined a small group of Canadian adults who used the Internet in the past, but have since stopped using it for a number of reasons. Despite the enormous growth of the Internet, there remain some former users who no longer need or wish to use the Internet, do not have the necessary equipment, or for whom the costs may outweigh the benefits. Compared to current Internet users, these former users are slightly older on average, more likely to be male than female, and have lower levels of income and education. In addition, this group is over-represented by those residing in smaller towns and rural areas, where the Internet can potentially be used to help overcome distance.


Crompton, S., J. Ellison and K. Stevenson (2002). Better things to do or dealt out of the game? Internet dropouts and infrequent users. Canadian Social Trends, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 11-008-XIE.

Dickinson, P. and J. Ellison (2000). Plugging in: The increase of household Internet use continues into 1999. Connectedness Series, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 56F0004MIE, no. 1.

Dryburgh, H. (2001). Changing our ways: Why and how Canadians use the Internet. Statistics Canada, Catalogue
no. 56F0006XIE

Lenhart, A. (2002). Barriers to Internet access: From the non-user and new-user perspective. Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Sciadas, G. (2006). Our lives in digital times. Connectedness Series, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 56F0004MIE, no. 14. .

Sciadas, G. (2002). Unveiling the digital divide. Connectedness Series, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 56F0004MIE, no. 7.

Veenhof, B. (2006). The Internet: Is it changing the way Canadians spend their time? Connectedness Series, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 56F0004MIE, no. 13.

About the authors

Larry McKeown and Cathy Underhill are with the Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division (SIEID) at Statistics Canada. For more information about this article, please contact


  1. Reasons given by respondents were checked off from a list of twelve by the Interviewer (the list was not read aloud to the respondents). Since more than one reason could be provided, the total sums to more than 100%.