New Pew Report: tracking the rise of technology use from 2000 to 2016

It’s interesting to see the trajectories of use of technologies in the last 15 years in Pew’s latest report on technology use. The graph below really spells most of it out…


The report also highlights four observations…

  1. Roughly three-quarters of Americans (77%) now own a smartphone
  2. After a modest decline between 2013 and 2015, the share of Americans with broadband service at home increased by 6 percentage points in 2016.
  3. Nearly seven-in-ten Americans now use social media.
  4. Half the public now owns a tablet computer.

One caveat to the broadband statistics is that they don’t use a speed to define broadband. When asked about the speed of broadband, this was their response…

1. And our definition of broadband users is not based on connection speed—we’ve tried to ask that question in the past, but found that the vast majority of our respondents were not able to even guess what the speed of their internet service is.
Instead, we define broadband users by simply asking them for the type of connection they have. That question has changed somewhat over time, but our most recent version is phrased as follows: “Do you subscribe to dial-up internet service at home… OR do you subscribe to a higher-speed broadband service such as DSL, cable, or fiber optic service?”

Strategies and Recommendations for Promoting Digital Inclusion

The FCC recently released their Strategies and Recommendations for Promoting Digital Inclusion. The report paints a picture of what the digital divide looks like today –

  • Americans with the lowest incomes are most likely to go without broadband at home.
  • Americans who are more likely to have low socioeconomic statuses due to historical and systemic barriers to education, opportunity, and adequate housing are least likely to have home broadband connectivity
  • African-Americans and 50 percent of Hispanics subscribe to a home broadband service, compared with 72 percent of White Americans
  • A rural-urban divide persists as well
  • People with disabilities and older adults are also more likely to go without a home broadband subscription
  • Perhaps one of the starkest divides in broadband access and adoption exists in Indian Country, where broadband is often unavailable

They also talk about national and local efforts to close the divide. It was nice to see the Blandin Foundation mentioned…

Example: The Blandin Foundation serves rural Minnesota by strategically allocating grants to organizations that support broadband access, adoption and digital literacy through its Community Broadband Resources Program. The foundation supports a number of community projects throughout the state. For instance, in Nobles County, grantees are working to establish Wi-Fi hotspots to provide access to unserved residents. In Chisago County, where broadband is expensive, slow, or unavailable, Blandin undertook a community survey to paint a picture of the divide that exists for lawmakers and providers. As a result, providers have expanded service and rolled out significant service improvements. In Stevens County, the foundation supported a consortium of school districts that developed a broadband-based system for providing specialized distance learning for students with disabilities. And in the Central Woodlands area of the state, a Blandin-funded pilot project assisted local businesses with adopting e-commerce and as a result, the program has expanded to help businesses in surrounding areas. All of these institutions, and the others that Blandin supports, have targeted-mission specific needs that are unique to their rural geography. As a community foundation, Blandin is uniquely situated to appreciate and assess those needs and support groups accordingly.

And they made recommendations. I’m going to try to shorthand them below (they are detailed in the report)..

Outreach & Education

  • Consider the creation of an online hub that catalogues digital inclusion resources by state
  • Consider convening a series of in-person and online National Digital Inclusion Summits across the country
  • Consider hosting a separate meeting to bring together representatives of Tribal libraries with representatives of non-tribal libraries and researchers
  • Consider increasing outreach to people with disabilities and their representatives


  • Commission, along with partners at the Department of Education and other interested federal agency stakeholders, may wish to explore ways to facilitate relationships in states between workforce development programs and community colleges
  • Bureau’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs(IGA)may consider engaging and working with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the National Association of Utility Consumer Advocates, and local government representatives including the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to identify and connect community anchor institutions and grassroots organizations
  • IGA and the Office of Native Affairs and Policy could also liaise with state and local governments to explore partnerships between cities and/or states and nearby Tribal governments and Tribal libraries


  • Support Lifeline Aggregation Projects
  • Make Purchasing ISP Services Simpler and More Transparent
  • Support Using the Educational Broadband Service to Provide Service to Underserved Areas
  • Support Using Existing Federal Legislation to Promote Digital Inclusion.

Broadband Opportunity Council progress report: much was done, much remains and plan is to continue on

The Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC) released a progress report. Like many of the reports that have been released by federal agencies, it’s a benchmark of what has happened and what remains to be done. Here was the overarching goal of the BOC…

President Obama in March 2015 signed the Presidential Memorandum on “Expanding Broadband Deployment and Adoption by Addressing Regulatory Barriers and Encouraging Investment and Training,” (Memorandum) creating the Broadband Opportunity Council (Council).1 The Council included 25 federal agencies and departments with missions or programs with the potential to drive broadband infrastructure investment and adoption. The Memorandum asked the Council to produce specific recommendations to increase broadband deployment, competition, and adoption through executive actions within the scope of existing agency programs, missions, and budgets.  Agencies were directed to use all available and appropriate authorities to:
* Identify and address regulatory barriers that may unduly impede either wired broadband deployment or the infrastructure to augment wireless broadband deployment;
* Encourage further public and private investment in broadband networks and services;
* Promote the adoption and meaningful use of broadband technology; and otherwise
* Encourage or support broadband deployment, competition, and adoption in ways that promote the public interest.

In September 2015, the BOC released a report that included 36 actions for agencies to take; 15 have been completed and progress has been made on many other items. Actions focused on the following recommendations…

  1. Modernize federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments.
  2. Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use.
  3. Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to federal assets.
  4. Improve data collection, analysis, and research on broadband.

You can check out what’s been done and what hasn’t in the publication. The list is really too long to include here. They do include a plan to move forward…

The final Principals’ meeting of the Council during the Obama Administration was held on November 9, 2016. During the meeting, agencies agreed that the important work of the Council should continue through an interagency working group to be jointly chaired by NTIA and RUS. …

As noted in this progress report, agencies will continue to implement their action items. As agencies complete their action items, NTIA will post updates to the BroadbandUSA website and will coordinate with the agencies to make information available via other public events and announcements.

Building NTIA’s Next Internet Use Survey: Looking for feedback

I wanted to pass this opportunity to chime in…

Today, NTIA began seeking public comment on the next edition of our Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which will go into the field in November 2017 and will build on previous research to track the evolving ways Americans are using new information technology. We set out to create a 2017 questionnaire that represents a logical evolution from 2015, keeping questions intact to preserve time-series comparisons where possible, while strategically reworking some portions to yield better and more relevant data. For example, we added a few new online activity questions to learn how Americans are engaging in the sharing economy and publishing their own blog posts, videos, and other original content. | Read more >>


We welcome feedback from everyone on how we might improve this next survey, whether you have used our datasets, followed our research, or are otherwise interested in contributing ideas. If you’re interested in participating, you can review the draft survey instrument and follow the instructions for commenting in the Federal Register notice. | View the Federal Register notice >>


We’re excited to build on our previous research with the upcoming November 2017 CPS Supplement. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.



The NTIA Data Team

Broadband Divide & Federal Assistance Report: Big gap between rural and urban

A federal report on broadband is always great because it helps us compare how we’re doing in Minnesota and gives the lowdown on tools available from federal resources. The downside of a federal report, is that the data is usually a little dated. The report (Broadband Internet Access and the Digital Divide: Federal Assistance Programs) released last week is based on broadband statistics from December 2015.

The report feels like the notes you leave behind when you leave a job – you try to give the new worker the low down on what’s happened, what’s happening and resources that are there to help. There are also some statistics to help benchmark where we are with broadband access. I’m going to paste the table of contents below (at the bottom of the post) – if you ever need the basics on topics listed, this is your resource.

Otherwise I thought the urban/rural divide detail in the report was most interesting. Spoiler alert – rural is still lagging behind and behind even more are tribal lands and US Territories – the table below shows who lacks access:


And here’s how Minnesota compares:

Total percentage without access:

  • US – 10
  • MN – 12

Total urban percentage without access:

  • US – 4
  • MN – 1

Total rural percentage without access:

  • US – 39
  • MN – 43

Interesting to see Minnesota’s urban areas are rocking it. Minnesota’s rural areas are behind (4 percentage points!) the national curve. No wonder the discussion in Minnesota can seem so fractious. The difference between the urban/rural market is even more extreme in Minnesota than on a national level. I know myself when I’m at home in St Paul, it’s hard for me to imagine there are people without access – until hear from communities living with 43 percent lack of coverage. Or I visit and try to fit in a little work between meetings. Not an option.

The report offers a little advice for policymakers…

To the extent that Congress may consider various options for further encouraging broadband deployment and adoption, a key issue is how to strike a balance between providing federal assistance for unserved and underserved areas where the private sector may not be providing acceptable levels of broadband service, while at the same time minimizing any deleterious effects that government intervention in the marketplace may have on competition and private sector investment.

I might extend that advice to remind policymakers that there is a difference between rural and urban. Affordability, adoption, higher use – those are issues in urban and rural areas. But with connectivity there is a difference. And as I noted, the numbers in the report are dated. But then they are looking at dated speeds too; the report looks at speeds of 25/3 – in Minnesota we are targeted 100/20 for 2026.

Here’s the report Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
Status of Broadband in the United States  1
Broadband Availability 2
Broadband Adoption  5
Broadband in Rural Areas 7
Broadband and the Federal Role  9
Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 9
The National Broadband Plan  10
Federal Broadband Programs 12
The Universal Service Concept and the FCC12
Universal Service and Broadband  13
Rural Utilities Service Programs  16
P.L. 111-5: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009  16
Other Federal Programs and Initiatives 17
Broadband Opportunity Council  17
BroadbandUSA  18
Appalachian Regional Commission 18
HUD ConnectHome  18
Digital Literacy Initiative 19
Legislation in the 114th Congress  19
Concluding Observations  23

Tables Table 1. Percentage of Broadband Technologies by Types of Connection  2
Table 2. Percentage of Americans Lacking Access to Fixed Broadband  3
Table 3. Americans Without Access to Fixed Broadband by State and U.S. Territory 3
Table 4. Estimated Percentage of Americans with Multiple Options for Fixed Broadband 5
Table 5. Broadband Adoption  6
Table 6. Broadband Availability, Rural vs. Urban Areas  7

Tribal Broadband: Status of Deployment and Federal Funding Programs

A new report called Tribal Broadband: Status of Deployment and Federal Funding Programs was released this week. (The data appears to be from Dec 31, 2014.)

Here are some quick notes on deployment:

  • 10% of all Americans lack access to broadband (25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload)
  • 41% of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to broadband
  • 33% of Americans living on tribal lands in Minnesota lack access to broadband

And quick notes on funding opportunities:

  • FCC – High Cost/Connect America Fund Program
  • FCC – Schools and Libraries (E-Rate) Program
  • FCC – Lifeline Program
  • FCC – Rural Health Care Program/Healthcare Connect Fund
  • RUS – Community Connect Grant Program
  • RUS – Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program
  • RUS – Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program
  • RUS – Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Loan Guarantee Program
  • Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA)

The report goes into detail and outlines some recommendations for further action.

Urban broadband is a cable game – rural broadband is DSL: how can that help us plan?

The FCC recently released the Industry Analysis and Technology Division Wireline Competition Bureau. It’s the culmination of FCC Form 477 filled out by providers.

I think there’s an interesting look at speeds by technology and location (metro vs rural) of technology. First location – the following graph tracks ratio of subscribership by household density, or who serves urban areas and who serves rural areas. The answer is DSL is a big player in rural areas; cable is the biggest player in towns and cities. Fixed wireless and satellite are players in rural areas and almost non-existent in urban areas. This graph does not track speed – just technology.


Now it’s helpful to look at what speeds. When we look at access by speeds or 10/1 we see representation of all technologies.


When we look at speeds of 25/3, DSL is no longer represented.


Here’s another way to look at it:


DSL has a larger share of slower connections. DSL has a larger share of rural connections. The Minnesota legislature has defined speed goals or 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. They have dedicated funds to making it happen through the border to border grants. So there’s a recognized need for support, but the question is how to increase speeds in rural areas.

Do tools used in urban areas help rural connectivity? Do policy makers understand that there’s a significant difference in the two markets based on population density, distance to customers, limitations of transport technology and regulations and expectations of technologies based urban scenarios.

Right now Minnesota connectivity rates are well below the legislative goals (and the report only indicates download speeds):

  • 200 kbps – 99.5 percent connect
  • 3 Mbps – 93.0 percent connect
  • 10 Mbps – 75.2 percent connect
  • 25 Mbps – 54.2 percent connect
  • 100 Mbps – 13.4 percent connect