FCC broadband study suggests users don't know about broadband choices
The Federal Communications Commission released a survey today that confirmed one thing most of you might have guessed -- people wish high-speed Internet access were cheaper -- and also suggested that many of these would-be adopters have an exaggerated sense of what broadband costs.
As my colleague Cecilia Kang summarized earlier today, the FCC's survey -- undertaken as part of the commission's work on the National Broadband Plan it expects to present to Congress on March 17 -- found that 35 percent of adult Americans did not have broadband access at home.
First, 36 percent of broadband non-adopters had affordability concerns -- monthly access fees, the cost of a computer, installation fees or the required long-term contract. Second, 22 percent pointed to what the FCC calls "digital literacy" issues, including worries about a lack of online skills or risks incurred by going on the Web. Third, 19 percent of broadband refuseniks said either the Internet as a whole was a waste of time or boring or that dial-up service was fine.
(Note that the survey, which interviewed 5,005 people between October and November of last year, found that 22 percent of Americans don't use the Internet at all and another 6 percent only go online outside of the home -- leaving just 6 percent logging on via dial-up. And of those dial-up users, only one-third said they couldn't get broadband at home ... not that this isn't a legitimate problem, seeing as I've heard this complaint from people just 30 miles from the District.)
Most of the study's findings seem plausible enough. But its affordability findings confuse me -- in particular, its conclusion that "Non-adopters concerned with cost would be willing to pay, on average, $25 per month for broadband."
But many of these people could probably beat that price today. Take a look at the entry-level prices of the most widely used options available around the Washington area:
Verizon charges $19.99 a month for digital-subscriber-line service with downloads of 1 million bits per second (Mbps) and uploads of 384 thousand bits per second (Kbps).
Comcast offers a $24.99/month 1 Mbps/384 Kbps "Economy" plan -- though that rate requires also paying for cable-TV or phone service from the Philadelphia, Pa.-based company. (Note that you'll have to plug in a street address to see this listing, and that the Economy plan appears after more expensive options.)
RCN, the cable firm challenging Comcast in the District, Falls Church and parts of Montgomery County, charges $19.99 a month for a 1.5 Mbps/384 Kbps connection.
Cox charges $29.99 a month for 3 Mbps/768 Kbps service if you order service at its Web site.
Don't get me wrong here; I'm not going to defend the current state of competition for Internet service or suggest that these companies couldn't do better. In particular, a lot of dial-up users might happily upgrade to a cheap but slow broadband plan just to get always-on access -- say, $10 or $15 a month for 512 kbps down and 256 kbps up, which could still allow Internet radio and voice calling. We could also stand to see better broadband-shopping tools -- the find-service page at DSL Reports can help, but it doesn't exactly match the ease and utility of the brilliant Kayak travel-shopping site.
But if people think that broadband always costs $50-plus a month, they're wrong.
Are you, or are people you know, reading this page on a sub-broadband connection? If so, what's held you all back? Tell me in the comments.
February 23, 2010; 3:19 PM ET
Categories: Policy and politics , Telecom
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