Half Americans doubt govt broadband expansion, adoption grows but more slowly
Update 11:30 a.m.: Embargo lifted on report, data included
Update: 1:50 p.m. Note to readers: Thanks for your great feedback in comments section. Another outlet broke an agreement to publish the report Thursday morning. So I'll try to fill in the very important "why" questions as I go along. A fuller story for the paper is scheduled for tomorrow too. Thanks again.
More than half of Americans generally disagree with federal government efforts to expand broadband connections around the nation, saying those projects are not important, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
When asked their views about efforts by the government to provide affordable high-speed Internet access to everyone in the country, 53 percent said the government shouldn't attempt the effort or that it was "not too important" a priority, according to the Pew Center report. The phone survey of 2,252 adults comes as the Obama Administration and Federal Communications Commission have made it a priority to bring broadband Internet connections that are faster and more affordable to all homes.
Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at Pew and author of the report, said there could be several reasons why respondents were mixed in their views about the importance of broadband.
The economic recession has caused some to view broadband Internet access as more of a luxury than necessity. And respondents were uncertain about the benefits of broadband.
"The surprise is that non-users are the least inclined to think government has a role in the spread of broadband," Smith said. And "many non users are anxious to see the government promoting technologies that they view as difficult to use and offering uncertain benefits."
Drilling down, 26 percent of respondents said the expansion of affordable broadband access should not be attempted by government. Another 27 percent said it was "not too important" a priority. Thirty percent said it was an important priority and 11 percent said it should be a top priority.
Congress set aside $7.2 billion in stimulus grants to bring broadband connections to rural areas. So far, $2.4 billion has been handed out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Congress and the FCC have also pressed for changes to a phone subsidy program to include funding for broadband network buildouts. More than $5 billion of the total $8 billion annual program goes to broadband networks in rural areas.
FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard said the agency is committed to its efforts to make broadband Internet more accessible. In the Pew report, non-Internet users were less likely to agree that broadband should be a government priority. The agency found in its own survey that people who didn't adopt said it was because they didn't find the Internet relevant to their lives or lacked training to use it.
"We’re more committed than ever to educating Americans about the ways that broadband can improve their lives, whether that’s helping them build their businesses, access education tools, enhance their health care, or communicate with their government and each other,” Howard said.
Overall, broadband adoption grew slightly over the last year, but more slowly than in years past, the Pew Center said. In 2010, 66 percent of Americans had broadband access, compared to 63 percent in 2009. But with the margin of error in its survey results, Pew said the difference was not "statistically different." The greatest growth in adoption was among African Americans, of whom 56 percent have a broadband line into their homes compared to 46 percent last year.
For a deeper look into adoption, we look at California, where broadband use is up this year despite the severe recession, according to a separate survey of state residents that provides a snapshot of how some Americans regard the importance of high-speed Internet access.
Overall, 70 percent of those surveyed said they have a broadband connection at home, up from 62 percent in 2009, according to the report released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The survey found that Latinos lagged far behind the rest of the state’s population. Half of Latinos surveyed said they have a broadband connection at home, compared to 82 percent of whites, 77 percent of Asians and 70 percent of African Americans. The survey didn’t take into account wireless access to the Internet, which we reported is preferred by some minority groups.
Among Latinos, those who were foreign-born were even further behind, the survey found. Seven out of 10 Latinos who are U.S.-born have broadband connections, compared to 25 percent who are noncitizens, according to the report.
An interesting statistic: There is only a marginal difference between broadband adoption rates in rural and urban households, at 69 percent and 71 percent, respectively.
August 11, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories: Broadband , Digital Divide , FCC
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