But not for everybody - especially not in a city with such widespread poverty as Philadelphia.
Fewer than 20 percent of households in large sections of North and West Philadelphia are connected, according to the most recently available public data. And rates in much of the rest of the city, or in other pockets of poverty such as Camden, aren't much higher.
There's nothing new in the concept of a "digital divide" - the term first appeared in The Inquirer more than 15 years ago, back when "fast Internet" meant a speedy dial-up modem. But as broadband service has improved, it's become more and more essential - it's now a fixture in more than two-thirds of the nation's households. And the digital divide has become more like a cultural chasm.
Addressing the divide, which also troubles rural areas, has been a goal of the Obama administration since passage of 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and it was a priority of the National Broadband Plan announced the next year by the Federal Communications Commission at the act's behest.
But like many bold goals, finally bridging the divide is proving to be a daunting challenge for those involved, such as Philadelphia's ambitious Freedom Rings Partnership, as well as for those trying to study it and sharpen strategies for addressing it - including a group of key players who shared progress reports Tuesday during a seminar at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication.
The map that accompanies this column - and a more detailed, interactive version that's available online to those lucky enough to have a broadband connection - was among the presentations. It was created by Jacob Fenton for American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop, and shows a strong correlation between income levels and broadband adoption, using the rough measures disclosed publicly by the FCC. Across much of North Philadelphia, for example, somewhere between 0 percent and 20 percent of households have broadband service.
To get Internet access, residents of the city's poorer neighborhoods can turn to resources such as Freedom Rings, which operates about 80 public computer centers that supplement public computers at the Free Library's 54 facilities. But it's clear that demand still exceeds supply.
"The biggest complaint that people have at the branches is that there's a half-hour limit on the computers,," said Larry Eichel, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative, which recently published a study of the library system.
One key player conspicuously absent at Tuesday's session was Comcast Corp., which now offers a great bargain in broadband: Internet Essentials for $10 a month, at speeds that Comcast usually sells for $49 a month.
Comcast began offering the discounts in September as a condition of its merger with NBCUniversal. By Dec. 20, it says, it had signed up 41,000 households across its national footprint - but just 463 families in Philadelphia, fewer than one-tenth as many as it signed up in Chicago.
Why the huge difference? The answer isn't clear.
"The biggest difference between Chicago and Philadelphia was the engagement of the school district," David L. Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president, told me Wednesday. He said Chicago officials were more aggressive in making sure that brochures were distributed to children eligible for the school-lunch program - the benchmark for eligibility for Internet Essentials - as well as at city library facilities.
Cohen said he believes broadband's pricing isn't the biggest barrier to adoption for poor families, ranking it ?behind the cost of a computer - which Comcast is offering for less than $150 - and, above all, to a lack of digital literacy.
On that last point, at least, he echoes the conclusions of analysts such as Greta Byrum of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative, who convened Tuesday's meeting.
"A lot of it is breaking through that first barrier - making the machine do what they want it to do," Byrum said. And for that, she said, well-staffed public computing centers are proving to be a valuable start - a bridge across that ever-more-troubling divide.
Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or email@example.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/consumer.