Bad News on the Broadband Front

Announcing a national priority and making private sector investments apparently isn’t enough to improve broadband penetration across the United States.

A fall 2009 survey by the FCC found that 65% of Americans had broadband at home. A February 2012 survey came up with an identical number. Why? According to a report from TechNet, that last third of non-adopters (older, less educated and poorer) is a difficult audience to reach. Add in the recession — 9% in the latest survey said they had to cut back or cancel Internet service due to economic troubles — and the picture begins to clear.

The10-page TechNet report is here, with some brief analysis below by the State Science & Technology Institute:

The study identifies several reasons behind the plateau and calls for better coordination among policymakers and private stakeholders to improve adoption rates. Meanwhile, some states have big plans in the works to improve their broadband networks, including governors in Hawaii and New York pushing for funding to expand Internet access to underserved areas. Ohio’s governor is taking a different approach in hopes of attracting new employers and cutting-edge researchers with a $10 million state-led initiative boasting broadband speeds that officials say would far exceed the rest of the nation.

The TechNet report finds the number of Americans with broadband at home has remained around 65 percent since 2009 when the National Broadband Plan was implemented under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). At the same time, smartphone adoption and apps usage has grown significantly. However, this is not because smartphone users are swapping broadband service at home with smartphone usage; rather, connected individuals are increasing their access while others are left behind. A society more "digitally excluded," the authors contend, contributes to a smaller domestic market for tech goods and services and a less innovative economy.

Coordination and assessment is seen as key to pushing past the plateau. A clearinghouse for best practices that assembles program information would help local authorities better understand broadband opportunities and help states understand what other states are doing, the report finds.