NDIA took an interesting look at why people don’t have broadband. For years the answer was always a “lack of interest” followed by cost. But the NDIA tried a new tactic where they allowed people to choose more than one answer and they found that more people cited cost…
A close analysis of the debate leads to two conclusions:
There are multiple reasons for non-adoption: Research spanning the past decade that investigates non-broadband subscribers finds that non-adopters cite more than one reason behind their choice. In 2010, 2015, and 2019, national survey data shows that, when offered the chance to cite more than one reason for not subscribing to broadband at home, people generally cite 2 or 3 reasons.
Cost is the chief reason for not having broadband: Research that rests on the notion that reasons for non-adoption are multiple uniformly finds that cost is the most important reason that people do not have broadband. At least half of non-broadband subscribers cite cost (either monthly fee or access devices) as a reason they do not subscribe when offered multiple choices, with a plurality citing cost in follow-up questions about the most important reason for non-adoption.
The reason it matters, as the report points out, is that combating disinterest and affordability are different fights. Education and experience helps build an interest; lower costs (or higher income) build affordability.
These aren’t mutually exclusive causes or fights but it does impact how you address them. And it makes a huge difference from a policy perspective. Because we’re no longer asking legislators to provide an unwanted service, we’re asking them to close a gap.
One of the weird non-broadband things I do is work with people experiencing homelessness. When asked if they’d like to have a home, some people will say no. But a few questions later you realize they do want a home they just don’t want to take space from someone they think is more deserving. They don’t think about how having a home might make education, employment and healthcare easier for them, cost the community less and lead them to greater personal and societal productivity. The answer is part education and part affordability.
In many ways broadband is similar. When you have to decide between broadband or dinner, or rent or new shoes for your kids, broadband is an easy line item to cut. But if you know how broadband can help you make money, finish a degree (or gain an employable skill), access remote healthcare, or just shop smarter – it’s easier to cut. But it takes time and/or training to recoup those costs and more forward to again, becoming more personally and societally productive.
For folks in the digital equity frontlines this finding isn’t shocking. But understanding how and why people say they don’t want broadband is helpful in knowing how to approach it in theory, practice and policy.