How important is Government support of broadband?

Yesterday Pew Internet & American Life unveiled their latest report on Home Broadband use/access/opinions. I’m trying to create in my own mind a take-away from the results, which were interesting. The report is eminently readable and brief – so it’s worth checking out firsthand – but here are some of the points that struck me:

  • African-Americans experienced 22% year-over-year broadband adoption growth; compared to an overall growth if 3% for all adults
  • A fifth of American adults (21%) do not use the internet. Many non-users think online content is not relevant to their lives and they are not confident they could use computers and navigate the web on their own.
  • By a 53%-41% margin, Americans say they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority.
  • Younger users (those under age 30) and African-Americans were the most likely to favor expanded government efforts towards broadband access, while older Americans were among the least likely to back the expansion of affordable broadband access as a government priority.
  • Disadvantages to not having broadband:
    • Job opportunities and career skills: 43% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to finding out about job opportunities or gaining new career skills. Some 23% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 28% think it is “not a disadvantage.”
    • Government services: 29% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to using government services. Some 27% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 37% think it is “not a disadvantage.”

The demographics of the nonusers remain the same: older, in rural areas, with less education and earning lower incomes.

I guess when I say I’m trying to find a takeaway, I really mean I’m trying figure out why. Why have we seen such a great leap in broadband adoption with African-Americans? Is there some hot broadband adoption strategy that’s worked magic? (And let’s get the details if there is!) Are there factors beyond the scope of broadband that come into play?

Why do folks not think broadband deployment should be a top government priority? Well, let’s start with who? The results show that younger users and African American users think it is important. In the commentary on the report Pew notes that it’s actually folks who aren’t online that think it shouldn’t be a priority, which make sense since the report also indicates that those folks don’t think there’s value for them online. I wonder if they would feel the same if they had more experience with broadband. For example, if the older folks who didn’t support government backing of broadband expansion experienced some of the advantages of telemedicine, would they still agree.

I find it interesting too – that this report came at the same time that the House cut $302 million from the ARRA broadband funds. In short, the money has been shifted from broadband to keep teachers. In the past, I’ve accused research and surveys of reflecting the American ideal of wanting everything – maybe this new turn (and use of priority, which is a comparative term) reflects a recognition that we can’t say yes to everything. Not that the question mentioned anything about teachers – but maybe now when we see a questions like that we think of what we say no to when we say yes to broadband.

A bigger question is – how will this sentiment affect the National Broadband Plan? There’s a lot of talk about funding broadband deployment and adoption in the plan. Is that in to stay?

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy, Research and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

2 thoughts on “How important is Government support of broadband?

  1. Pingback: Broadband Update on Cook County « Blandin on Broadband

  2. Pingback: Have plan, will deploy in Australia « Blandin on Broadband

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