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Kevin Taglang of the Benton Foundation outlines the findings of a recent GAO report, Federal Broadband Deployment Programs and Small Business, and concludes that The Government Makes the Internet Better.
- The Government Makes the Internet Better, by Kevin Taglang, Benton Foundation Blog (March 14, 2014)
Although it did not garner much coverage, an independent, nonpartisan analysis of federal funding for broadband infrastructure and the existence of municipally operated networks finds that both have resulted in improvements in U.S. broadband service.
- Federal Broadband Deployment Programs and Small Business, GAO-14-203: (Published: Feb 7, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2014). full report [pdf].
Improvements to broadband service have resulted from federal funding and the existence of municipally operated networks. Service providers have used federal funding for expansions and upgrades, such as building out to previously unserved areas and replacing old copper lines with fiber optic cable, resulting in faster and more reliable broadband connections. GAO examined broadband services for 14 federally funded and municipal networks and found they tended to have higher speeds than other networks.
The Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a report today entitled Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home (PDF). This report investigates broadband Internet use in the United States and finds that disparities continue to exist in broadband Internet adoption among demographic and geographic groups. The report also delves into the reasons why households have not adopted broadband Internet.
Broadband internet adoption has increased substantially in only a few years, rising to 68% of households in 2010 from only 51% of households three years earlier and from 64% in 2009, the last time ESA and NTIA looked at these issues.
While this points to progress, a digital divide still exists between different racial and ethnic groups and between urban and rural areas in the United States. Broadband adoption rates varied substantially between different racial and ethnic groups, with 81% of Asian and 72% of White households having broadband Internet access, compared to only 55% and 57% of Black and Hispanic households. The urban-rural divide is also wide, with 70% of urban households having broadband Internet access compared to only 57% of rural households. Socio-economic differences, such as income and education, explain much – but not all – of this divide.
Here is what we know: Households that do not subscribe to any Internet service—dial-up or broadband —cited as the main reasons a lack of need or interest (47%); lack of affordability (24%); and an inadequate computer (15%). However, 27% of dial-up users — a rapidly declining group of users — indicated that they did not have broadband internet access service in their area.
Access the Full Text Report (72 Pages; PDF)
- Sixty-eight percent of American households used broadband Internet in 2010, up from 64 percent in 2009. Only three percent of households relied on dial-up access to the Internet in 2010, down from five percent in 2009. Another nine percent of households had people who accessed the Internet only outside of the home.
- All told, approximately 80 percent of American households had at least one Internet user, whether inside or outside the home and regardless of technology type used to access the Internet.
- Cable modems and DSL were the leading broadband technologies for home Internet adoption, with 32 percent and 23 percent of households, respectively, using these services.
Differences in Household Broadband Adoption
- Households with lower incomes and less education, as well as Blacks, Hispanics, people with disabilities, and rural residents, were less likely to have Internet service at home.
- Eighty-one percent of Asian households and 72 percent of White households had broadband at home, compared to 57 percent of Hispanic households and 55 percent of Black households.
- Seventy percent of urban households had broadband at home, compared to 57 percent of rural households.
- Households with school-age children were more likely to have broadband at home (78 percent) than the national rate. Older householders, particularly those ages 65 and older (45 percent), were less likely to have broadband at home.
- Less than half (43 percent) of households with annual incomes below $25,000 had broadband access at home, while 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000 had broadband.
- Average broadband adoption in 2010 varied by state from about half (52 percent) of all households to 80 percent.
Role of Socio-Economic Factors
- Socio-economic differences do not explain the entire broadband adoption gap. For example, after accounting for socio-economic and geographic factors, Black and Hispanic households still lag White households in broadband adoption by 11 percentage points, though the gap between Asian and White households disappears.
- After accounting for socio-economic and demographic factors, rural households still lag urban households in broadband adoption by five percentage points.
- In contrast, differences in socio-economic characteristics do explain a substantial portion but not all of the broadband adoption lag among people with disabilities.
Reasons for Not Subscribing to Broadband at Home
- The main reasons cited for not having Internet access at home were a lack of interest or need (47 percent), the expense (24 percent), and the lack of an adequate computer (15 percent).
- Not surprisingly, individuals without broadband service at home relied on locations such as public libraries (20 percent) or other people’s houses (12 percent) to go online.
Long-term Trends in Internet and Computer Use
- Between 2001 and 2010, broadband Internet use at home, regardless of technology type, rose from 9 percent to 68 percent of households.
- Between 1997 and 2010, Internet use among households, regardless of technology type, rose from 19 percent to 71 percent.
- More than three quarters (77 percent) of American households had a computer at home in 2010, up from 62 percent in 2003.
Access the Full Text Report (72 Pages; PDF)
The National Broadband Map is a tool to search, analyze and map broadband availability across the United States. Created and maintained by the NTIA, in collaboration with the FCC, and in partnership with 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia.
See also: Are You Being Served? National Broadband Map Going Live Today, By Chloe Albanesius, PC Magazine (February 17, 2011).
Users can search by address, view data on a map, or use other interactive tools to compare broadband across various geographies, such as states, counties or congressional districts.
…”The National Broadband Map shows there are still too many people and community institutions lacking the level of broadband service needed to fully participate in the Internet economy. We are pleased to see the increase in broadband adoption last year, particularly in light of the difficult economic environment, but a digital divide remains,” [Larry] Strickling [assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)] said in a statement.
Next Generation Connectivity: A review of broadband Internet transitions and policy from around the world, The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. (February 2010).
On July 14, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University would conduct an independent expert review of existing literature and studies about broadband deployment and usage throughout the world and that this project would help inform the FCC’s efforts in developing the National Broadband Plan. The Berkman Center’s Final Report was submitted to the FCC on February 16, 2010.
Our most prominent initial findings, confirmed and extended in this final draft, were that U.S. broadband performance in the past decade has declined relative to other countries and is no better than middling. Our study expanded the well known observation with regard to penetration per 100 inhabitants, and examined and found the same to be true of penetration per household; subscriptions for mobile broadband; availability of nomadic access; as well as advertised speeds and actually measured speeds; and pricing at most tiers of service.
The Center has made the full datasets behind their research available for download.
Yochai Benkler (long-time commons defender and writer of “Wealth of Networks”) and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard have produced for the FCC a report on broadband around the world. The report (PDF) is now open for public comment (FCC directions for public comment are here). Comments look to be due by November 16, 2009.
In an interview on the Berkman site, Benkler stated:
I think there are two pieces of news that will be most salient for people as they look at this report. The first is a response to the question: ‘how are we [the U.S.] doing?’, and the answer is that we’re overall middle-of-the-pack, no better. The second responds to the question: ‘What policies and practices worked for countries that have done well?’, and the answer to that is: there is good evidence to support the proposition that a family of policies called ‘open access,’ that encourage competition, played an important role.
Here’s the FCC’s public notice:
On July 14, the Commission announced in a press release that Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society would conduct an expert review of existing literature and studies about broadband deployment and usage throughout the world to inform the Commission’s development of a National Broadband Plan.
A draft of the study has now been completed. The Commission is seeking public comment on the study, and has posted the draft for public review at the following Internet address:
Specifically, the Commission seeks comment on the following:
- Does the study accomplish its intended purposes?
- Does the study provide a complete and objective survey of the subject matter?
- How accurately and comprehensively does the study summarize the broadband experiences of other countries?
- How much weight should the Commission give to this study as it develops a National Broadband Plan?
- Are additional studies needed along the lines of the Berkman study?
- Please provide any other comments on the Berkman study that you deem relevant.
Comments look to be due by November 16, 2009.