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New Report Shows Americans Object to Forced Transition to a Paperless Society

June 21, 2013
Author: Suz-Anne Kinney
A new report conducted by InfoTrends for the group Consumers for Paper Options finds that Americans overwhelmingly oppose efforts by both government and private companies to force consumers away from paper and toward digital forms of communication. The report, Access for All: American Attitudes regarding Paper & Digital Information,” contains the results of a survey of more than 3,000 adults conducted by InfoTrends.

Government Elimination of Paper Communications

Currently, the federal government is trying to phase out paper social security checks and benefit statements, tax forms and savings bonds in efforts to save money. Consumers for Paper Options is working to reverse these decisions, arguing that they unfairly disadvantage seniors, individuals with low incomes and/or no internet service and those concerned about identify fraud.

While the American people appreciate any effort made by the government to spend taxpayer dollars more responsibly, they do not agree that this move toward paperless interactions is fair and reasonable. The survey found that 73 percent of Americans agreed that consumers should not be forced to go online to interact with government agencies. Nearly three-quarters, or 72 percent, said that government agencies should not be allowed to force people to change from paper to electronic formats for receiving documents that require action, and 69 percent feel the same way about documents that require no action. In addition, 89 percent agree with Consumers for Paper Options that switching to electronic documents unfairly disadvantages elderly, disabled, low income and poorly educated Americans, and 83 percent thought the government should take action to prevent this from happening. Finally, 78 percent felt the government should not be allowed to charge for paper documentation if the shift to electronic documents is made.

Private Companies Go Paperless

More respondents objected to private companies moving from paper to electronic formats for sharing information. More than four-fifths, or 84 percent, believe that is it not okay for companies to force customers to receive bills, statements, proxies and privacy statements in electronic form only. A total of 82 percent of all respondents think it is unfair to force people who do not like or do not want to learn how to use a computer to do so in order to receive these documents. Of those surveyed, 73 percent did not believe that companies should be allowed to charge for paper bills, statements and correspondence.

Two of the most interesting results of the survey concern company motives for going paperless and the thinking of younger respondents on these issues.

Most respondents—69 percent believe that the move to online-only documents has important process and cost benefits for the company but few benefits for the customer. A total of 87 percent say the primary reason companies want to make this move is to boost profits, not for the environmental benefits.

Young people objected to eradicating paper documentation at even higher levels than the larger group of adults. 92 percent believe that paper format bills and statements should be provided to those who want them. A higher than expected 62 percent of this group prefer to receive at least some of their bills and statements in paper format, while 43 percent want to receive all of these types of documents in paper format.

Who Will Be Affected?

If governments and companies make the switch from paper to electronic documentation, how many Americans might be adversely affected? Those who have no or limited access to the internet will suffer the most.

The 2010 US Census found that 30.8 million households have no regular internet access. People 55 and older are 16 percent less likely than the national average to have internet access, and 45 percent of Americans over 65 do not even own a computer. At 18 percent and 16 percent respectively, African Americans and Hispanics are less likely than the national average to have internet access. Women are 7 percent less likely than men to have internet access. Americans who live in rural areas are 6 percent less likely than the national average to have internet access. At 48 percent and 16 percent respectively, those without a high school diploma and those who have not attended college are less likely than the national average to have access to the internet.

The survey was conducted via internet survey to ensure respondents had access to and experience with digital information. It was given to 3,073 adults chosen randomly and mirroring the demographics of the US population (age, gender and income) as described the US Census. The margin of error for the survey results is +/- 1.8 percent.

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