The release of a comprehensive study on broadband adoption entitled "Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States," released by the Department of Commerce, reiterates the need for action, as opposed to continued emphasis on measurement. The study reports that 64% of U.S. households use broadband at home. This is consistent with most other recent broadband adoption rate studies. In 2009 the FCC reported that 65% of Americans use broadband at home, which was also the statistic cited in the FCC's "706 Report" released in July, 2010. No matter how the data is collected and analyzed, the conclusions remain the same. Broadband adoption is more of an issue than the physical availability of broadband. Although we still have problems, primarily in rural areas, with the availability of broadband, the major problem with broadband Internet access in America is the actual use and adoption of broadband in the home.
Problems such as affordability and digital literacy are obvious problems. A more pressing issue is the growing perception by a significant percentage of Americans that broadband is not needed. This presents a problem with providing government subsidies for building out broadband networks. Why invest money in broadband networks, when potential subscribers do not see a benefit? The answer lies in making a case for how broadband can and does enhance the lives of people around the world. The widely used saying "you don't know what you don't know" is applicable in this case.
Although the Department of Commerce report is somewhat redundant in its findings, it does offer some insight into the factors involved with increasing access. The report authors tout the study as "the most accurate statistical profile of U.S. broadband Internet adoption currently available."
The Department of Commerce report also delves into geographic and demographic factors affecting broadband adoption. The report found that while broadband adoption rose significantly across all demographic groups from 2001 to 2009, certain regions demonstrated larger growth rates. Generally speaking states in the Northeast and West regions demonstrated higher adoption rates than states in the South and Midwest.Broadband adoption rates by region in 2009:
- West 68%
- Northeast 67%
- Midwest 62.2%
- South 60%
More notably, urban areas stood at a 65% adoption rate, with rural areas significantly lower at 51%. The Department of Commerce report also reports broadband adoption rates at the State level, and compares these rates with 2001 levels. Four states are tied for the highest adoption rate of 73% in 2009 (Utah, New Hampshire, Alaska, and Massachusetts). Mississippi (42%), Alabama (48%), and Arkansas (51%) are the states with the lowest adoption rates in 2009.Some of the more significant findings:
- 70% of American households used the Internet in 2009
- 25% of American households did not have an Internet user in the home
- Income and education level are important determinants of Internet use at home - but not the only ones
- Broadband Internet adoption remains higher in White Households than among Black and Hispanic households
- Urban residents are more likely than their rural counterparts to use broadband
- Two-thirds of non-users stated a lack of need or interest as their primary reason for not having home broadband Internet access
- Lack of need or interest - 38%
- Affordability - 26%
- Lack of adequate computer 18%
- Only 4% cited unavailability of broadband Internet service where they lived
The report was published at a time when Congress will be considering the recommendations made in the FCC's National Broadband Plan. One of the major goals of the National Broadband Plan was to close the digital divide and address the issues affecting broadband adoption. Julius Genachowski commented on the NTIA report. "The digital divide is an opportunity divide - if you can't get online, you can't compete in the digital economy. The NTIA's new report provides an in-depth look at the persistent gaps between the digital haves and the digital have-nots. Closing these gaps is one the top priorities of the FCC's National Broadband Plan."