Broadband Expansion Unimportant, Not Government Priority, Study Says

Only 40 percent of Americans in research study pegged broadband expansion as a priority. Findings show rate of growth slowing, 21 percent shun Internet use, but millions go online to find jobs, access health information, learn, use government services, stay informed.

August 14, 2010

D.H. Kass

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More than half of Americans do not think the federal government should place a high priority on expanding broadband access throughout the country, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan, non-profit organization.

In a survey of 2,250 adults, some 53 percent of those interviewed said that expanding broadband access was relatively unimportant and that doing so should not be on the government’s docket of projects.

That sentiment runs counter to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to expand broadband to some 100 million U.S. households in the next 10 years and the federal government’s allocation of some $7.2 billion in stimulus funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA) to expand broadband to rural communities and underserved areas.

The study, conducted from April 29 to May 30 as part of Pew’s Internet and American Life Project—one of seven that Pew produces--revealed that the rate of broadband growth in the U.S. has slowed considerably in the last year.

Pew’s latest data showed that about two-thirds of Americans use high-speed Internet access at home, as compared with the 63 percent who used broadband in 2009.

The study’s findings uncovered a significant spike in the number of African-American broadband users, climbing from 46 percent last year to 56 percent this year, by far the highest growth rate of any demographic group surveyed, Pew said.

Of the 53 percent of Americans who contend that the government shouldn’t involve itself in expanding affordable broadband, those currently not online are particularly opposed to the idea, Pew said.

About 45 percent of non-users in the study said that the government should not try to make broadband access universally available. Only 5 percent of non-users said that broadband expansion belongs as a top priority of the government.

Non-users unlikely to change

Non-users of high speed Internet have a more difficult time finding out about job opportunities, gaining new career skills, miss out on health information and learning new things that may enrich their lives, as well as news and information, said participants in the study.

The survey also showed that only one in 10 non-users of the Internet intend to go online in the near future, mostly because they do not believe Internet content relevant to their lives.

It is precisely some of those non-users that the government is trying to reach, reasoning that the availability of broadband access will win them over. In the last two months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded about $2 billion for nearly 200 broadband expansion projects throughout the country and the U.S. Department of Commerce has granted an additional $1.6 billion.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke have said that the remaining $3.6 billion for 250 additional projects will be dispensed by the end of September, 2010.

TAGS: Internet,FCC,broadband,Pew Research Center,high-speed Internet

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