Commentary

Pew: Universal Broadband Faces Hurdles

The Obama administration is expected to make universal broadband a priority, but a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project suggests that achieving that goal will require more than just better pipes.

Currently, around one in four American adults don't have home Internet connections of any type -- broadband or dial-up, according to Pew. What's more, about half of that group says they have no use for the Web. When Pew asked the non-users why they didn't have Web connections, 33% said they weren't interested in going online, while 7% said they had no time for the Web and an additional 7% said they viewed the Internet as a waste of time.

"Non-adopters are older and lower-income Americans, and it would take time to undertake the training and support needed to turn them into competent online users," the report states.

But non-users' current views of the Web don't necessarily mean that universal broadband is doomed. The study only reflects people's present perceptions but doesn't -- and can't -- reveal how people will feel in the future, when broadband use has grown.

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When more local businesses accept orders online, more media companies place shows online, and more companies begin offering low-cost phone service online, more consumers who currently spurn the Web as a waste of time are bound to see the need to be online themselves.

Meanwhile, broadband connections still aren't readily available to around 9% of the country. Fixing that will go a long way towards boosting the Web.

4 comments about "Pew: Universal Broadband Faces Hurdles".
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  1. Lawrence Biddle from PlanningWorks LLC, January 22, 2009 at 5:48 p.m.

    I would hope the objective would be to make the choice of being an Internet user available as universally as possible. I don't think it's necessary or appropriate to assume there won't be people uninterested in being online users. Measuring success on that bases is just wrong.

  2. Michael Odza from Odza Consults/Social Media Lift, January 22, 2009 at 6:37 p.m.

    I agree 100% with Lawrence. Look at those numbers again: 25% do not have access, of which half don't want it. So that's 12.5% of the population that don't want it. Great, let them be, and meanwhile, lower the cost and raise the speed to international leadership levels, and make sure the 9% that cannot get it have the option -- but not the requirement!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 22, 2009 at 7 p.m.

    There will always be people without a television, too. Others will not want the most inexpensive of cell phones for emergencies either. Let it go. However, the precipice to usage is to have it available.

  4. Joe Chiffriller from Chiff.com, January 22, 2009 at 7:45 p.m.

    The history of Internet usage shows that people who don't have access and do not understand the benefits of using the Web for mundane chores -- such as email and comparing prices when shopping -- don't miss the experience. Many of todays Internet users were introduced to the Web when their kids needed access for school assignments. If broadband is made accessible, my guess is that many of the naysayers will find themselves online and loving it. A good number will only use email, but some will wind up supplementing incomes with online business and many more will use the informational resources and shopping services. Sure, there are some who will never get it, but for the rest access is vital. Check out what the Canadian government has done in Newfoundland to understand the real benefits of being connected for isolated populations. Folks in many rural areas find that easy access can, quite literally, be a lifesaver.

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