Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Broadband Use Up, But not universal

The NTIA released a recent study, showing that broadband usage continues to climb.  More than two-thirds of U.S. homes access the internet through broadband connections, and another 9% report using broadband services outside the home (but not at home).  Still, one in five households reported having no internet connection; about half (47%) of those said it was because they had no need or interest in it, and 39% citing costs or inadequate computer resources.
The report found some variation in broadband adoption rates among various ethnic groups and income levels, but also indicated that most of the differences disappeared when controlling for age, income, education level, and location (broadband remains less available in rural areas).

In a conference call with reporters announcing the report, NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling claimed that 100 million Americans were “cut off from the Internet at home” - a “troubling statistic in the 21st century economy.”  The claim isn't supported by the report however - the report indicates that 20% of homes do not use the internet, but that for 90% of them, it is a choice.  That means that only about 2% of U.S. households are "cut off from the Internet at home," if you mean that there is no access available. Even if you include those who indicate that they don't have access due to cost, that's still less than 10% of households.  And for most of them, they still would have access outside the home - less than 5% of households don't identify alternative access points like work, school, public libraries, or other people's houses.
I understand that administration officials like to spin these studies to support policy goals, but how you get 100 million people from less than 5% of U.S. households goes way beyond your typical spin, even for this administration.

Sources -  NTIA report: Broadband usage up, but broadband education needed,  Connected Planet online
Full NTIA report - Exploring the Digital Nation


  1. I don't think a focus on the nation as a whole answers the entire issue with American broadband adoption.

    Lack of broadband due to cost has to be counted in any analysis, because instead of proclaiming zero availability, ISPs have instead offered service provided that the user pay the installation cost, which can reach into tens of thousands of dollars.

    So you're looking at between 5 and 10 percent of American households without access to basic broadband. But in rural states, that percentage point is much higher. The FCC recently reported, for example, that 300,000 Nebraskans have no access to a basic broadband connection -- 18 percent of Nebraska's population.

    It's also worth remembering the historical parallel to the early days of telephone service. Large swaths of the United States were without telephone access until the federal government, aptly realizing that telephone service would become a necessity, essentially forced AT&T to provide universal service under the Communications Act of 1934.

    Broadband access is increasingly becoming an economic necessity, with the online retail approaching 300 billion dollars in value. And the UN declared in June of this year that internet access is a basic human right.

    Given those circumstances, I believe even a tenth of a percent of American households without broadband access is an unacceptable condition for this country.

  2. Some good points Alex, but you're a bit off in terms of where Universal Service came in. It didn't start with the 1934 Act, but in some earlier negotiations with various state regulatory agencies and telcos in the 1920s. The 1934 Act did make it official policy, though. However, the policy never applied only to AT&T, and it wasn't so much that the government forced AT&T - it was a trade-off of universal access for a profit guarantee. Also, expanding coverage to rural areas primarily came through Rural Electrification Act (1949) which offered low-cost loans to rural telcos to expand their service areas, not FCC efforts.