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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.

By Cecilia Kang  |  August 11, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , Digital Divide , FCC  
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There's a big issue about the broadband but, I bet that hardly anyone know what benefit will it bring into our pocket. Can you explain, anyone?

Posted by: acotto | August 11, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Am I missing something here? Why would anyone not want more areas of broadband? what part of America was this survey done? I don't get it nor do I believe it........

Posted by: mrtee2 | August 11, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Ha! talk about a hand picked 'survey'. Who'd they survey, a bunch of ATT employees being paid to Astroturf ?!?

Posted by: timtiminhouston | August 11, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Under the current proposals the benefit to the PEOPLE would be nil. The benefit to big business would be phenomenal. Talks with big business behind closed doors, looks like the people are about to get the shaft again. Politicians need to quit being traitors to the American public. The US Constitution starts We the People, not We the Big Business or We the few greedy politicians. The last time the FCC made rulings on Broadband they blocked thousands of small businesses, who were in the business of selling Internet connectivity, from being able to even have access to sell it. This in turn put 5000+ small businesses out of business. Resulting in the loss of over 100,000 jobs and businesses that supported them began to fail, so we have a domino effect occurring. Look at AOL once the largest provider of Internet connectivity in the US, they do not have access to broadband to sell it. Now Verizon and Comcast were very slick, they both rewired the Washington DC suburbs with the latest technology, that they had, so politicians would think things were just wonderful. While other markets still suffer with old technology, which may or may not ever be upgraded. Want to create jobs and spur the technology sector again put title II as it was in place with regard to broadband. Make line sharing a must so there is competition. Then we will see benefits for the people: better service, reduced pricing, private investment in Internet transport technology, more choices of providers, upgraded systems, thousands of jobs and so much more. It is time that the US is more than a third world nation when it comes to broadband. What can you do, write the FCC and call your representatives in Washington and tell them you want more choices, for broadband connectivity. We the People want our politicians working for the people, not just big business.

Posted by: rfceo | August 11, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Not a well written article. The headline is talking about how Americans disagree with government expansion of broadband, but the article doesn't explain why or how. It talk about penetration rates. I guess one could conclude it's due to the widespread use/levels of penetration. I believe the issue is the Government wants to increase speed rather than getting more people on it.

Come on Washington Post, I expect more insightful and thoughtful reporting. This sure looked like the reporter needed to fill her story quota for the day.

Posted by: pinwzrd | August 11, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm originally from a very rural state and I can say that although broadband availability has improved a lot over the years, there's still quite a few people who don't have access to it that want it. Not just availability but choice of service as well. I don't understand how someone could be against something that improves access to these people.

Posted by: adaml007 | August 11, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm with you mrtee2. The headline is sensational. I sure want to know why Americans don't agree with the government's bb expansion. The promise of the head gave way to a story about bb adoption. Maddening.

Since the reporter got an early look at a report that, as of 10:40 wasn't publicly available, I expected a lot more.

Posted by: daviesmith | August 11, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Broadband adoption is important because it enables those that need it in the home to telecommute, saving transportation costs and allowing some to have a closer relationship with their children. Business will benefit too as somebody else mentioned. Without this initiative, we're throwing away more of our advantages to other countries who are adopting broadband at speed. We've already tossed our manufacturing base out of the country to be adopted by China and Korea and our manufacturing base was what made us strong. It's how we prevailed during several was in the past.

We need to become friendly to manufacturing here in America and discourage the importation of goods from companies that left us high and dry for greener pastures, lower taxes and wages. The grossly scewed and stupid NAFTA agreement should be repealed too.

Posted by: realneil | August 11, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

in my first paragraph, last sentance, "was" should read "wars"
second paragraph scewed should read skewed

Sorry for not proofing my post properly.


Posted by: realneil | August 11, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

We are starting to get all of the government we are paying for and that scares the hell out of me !

Posted by: garybelcher1 | August 11, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

It's been in the news recently how companies like Verizon & AT&T, private companies, not utilities, have rec'd government injections of money for rural expansion. I suspect that is what the survey results point to.

Posted by: Hattrik | August 11, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

This article is a lie. The American people aren't against increasing bandwidth and access, they are against a system that favors the rich and relegates the bulk of Americans to a second tier bandwidth ghetto. There is nothing now preventing businesses from buying as much bandwidth as they please: Google is not the choke point, it is the racks servers and system geeks and leased bandwidth the company itself has architected. Google is very fast. Go ahead and speed the network. For everyone.

Posted by: pauleichhorn | August 11, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I just returned from a long weekend in western Pennsylvania. The access to high speed broadband in rural areas was very limited at best. I can't believe that most Americans do not support broadband expansion. So many services are and will be internet based and need broadband. High speed internet in rural America has not happened because internet providers refuse to string lines where it is not cost effective (1 house per mile is not a good payback). So rural America suffers. That's why we need a government plan to get all of America online, just the way electricity expanded into unpopulated areas.

Posted by: mwis | August 11, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to see a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project of the people WITHOUT BROADBAND. I think you would see a very different result. Those who have broadband take it for granted. They have this service because broadband providers decided that their location was profitable for broadband installation. Those people living in areas without broadband must use dial-up or contract for an expensive satellite system.

If you think this isn't important, try using a dial-up system for a week. I think you'll change your mind quickly about the importance of broadband access!

Posted by: LoudounPatriot | August 11, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree these results are quite surprising. Did Pew at least ask why (besides just saying "not important")? Is info on the sampling method available? Strange results indeed.

Posted by: cafonso | August 11, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

If you were to track it down you would most likely find that this survey was paid for by the broadband industry.
For those saying we should have broadband in rural areas, we should because the Telcos promised every US household would be connected and have received over $200 billion of tax payer money to do it. This was to be completed by 2010.

Posted by: rfceo | August 11, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Why is there surprise that non-users are not supportive? If you've never experienced broadband, how do you know what you're missing?

Another factor -- who answers phone surveys today? Often (not always) that demographic is older, and less comfortable with technology.

Posted by: cgp01 | August 11, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I find the reporting on this survey bizarre. If you look at the actual report, there is some interesting data there that wasn't mentioned at all. Instead we get a sensational headline and copy that diverges from the topic.

What I found interesting in the survey was that the majority who oppose government efforts to make affordable broadband a top priority skew older and are NOT ONLINE ALREADY. Of course they don't think it's a priority. However, in spite of the fact that they are opposed to government support for affordable broadband, the following results jump out.

- 66% think that lack of broadband is a major or minor disadvantage when researching job opportunities or career skills

- 62% think that lack of broadband is a major or minor disadvantage when finding out about health information

- 62% think that lack of broadband is a major or minor disadvantage when learning new things that might enrich or improve their lives

- 56% think that lack of broadband is a major or minor disadvantage when using government services

- 50% think that lack of broadband is a major or minor disadvantage when keeping up with news and information

So clearly, the majority of Americans think access to broadband is important. It just seems like they don't want the federal government involved in making that happen. Personally, I'll never understand the tiny-government advocates. Somehow letting Verizon and ATT pull all the strings is better? Not in my opinion.

Posted by: lanceball | August 11, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

After posting that I thought the reporting was bizarre, I went back and read the subsequent edits of 1:50 PM and do appreciate the additional information. Much better... Still, the findings of the report are contradictory, I think.

Posted by: lanceball | August 11, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

There is absolutely no reason to get the Federal government involved in private enterprise. It sounds like the private market is working just fine with good adoption rates by those who want it. Yes, there are some predominately rural areas where dial up is it, or you may have to use satelite, but the majority of Americans who want it (and are willing to pay for it) already have it. What is needed now is not "publicly subsidized Internet for those who do not want to pay for it", but rather, increases in speeds and available bandwidth for those who do.

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | August 11, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I've been to S. Korea, so I know how shamefully slow American "broadband" is.


Posted by: roblimo | August 11, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Sadest thing is to oversubscribe. Computer used for media needs 2 MB/s Broadband, NO More. Heavy downloading Daily might need more.

Less than 2 Mb/s per machine is poor quality. Even 10 MB/s will have glitches, depending on whom connected to. More Is NOT More. Wasted Space, Just running idle ALL time. Most don't use 24 Hr Internet, so GO SLOW. Take 2 MB/S & Surf Internet. Hopefully rates for Low End BroadBand will continue to fall.


Posted by: thomasxstewart1 | August 11, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Don't the opponents of broadband expansion realize the economic and informational/educational aspects that can occur with updating and expanding this service? Why are so many Americans against anything that smacks of progress. So many countries have left the vast majority of American broadband users in the internet dust. The rest of the world is moving on in this endeavour.

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Posted by: shoestrade111 | August 11, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes, I think the government like to control and push the broadband. But it's a business, the business of IT company, not the government. The government should pay more attention on Green Tech.


Posted by: juanchr | August 12, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

This is about as dumb of an article as Ive seen. Would you ask people that already have broadband if its important for those that dont have it? Thats nuts. Ask the people that dont have it because its not available. Also dont ask people who dont want to use the internet. This poll was stacked to get a certain result.

Posted by: jimbobkalina | August 15, 2010 4:05 AM | Report abuse

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