“BUT, does the Internet really provide a representative sample?”
Ten years ago, this was a constant criticism of online research. Today it is a mere echo, but Internet accessibility remains a concern for some researchers. According to a new Census Bureau report 90-95% of Americans have access to broadband Internet that is fast enough to “handle downloads of Web pages, photos and video or simple video conferencing services.” Also, 68% of households with access to broadband actually subscribe. Therefore, according to the Census Bureau, 61% to 65% of all households have broadband access. (See map of broadband access at right). Clearly, this percentage should continue to rise.
As one would expect, broadband availability is correlated to income. Therefore, online qualitative is less representative for lower income households but is very representative for median income households and above. Indeed, most of the households without access to broadband are poor and/or rural. Otherwise, broadband Internet penetration is strong and samples can be, and are, representative of most populations.
The Obama administration has announced a new initiative to increase broadband penetration. This initiative will only improve the ability of online qualitative research to reach the right respondents.