F.C.C. Takes a Close Look at the Unwired
By BRIAN STELTER and JENNA WORTHAM
Published: February 22, 2010
For many Americans, having high-speed access to the Internet at home is as vital as electricity, heat and water. And yet about one-third of the population, 93 million people, have elected not to connect.
A comprehensive survey by the Federal Communications Commission found several barriers to entry, with broadband prices looming largest. The commission will release the findings on Tuesday and employ them as it submits a national broadband plan to Congress next month.
Of the 93 million persons without broadband identified by the study, about 80 million are adults. Small numbers of them access the Internet by dial-up connections, or outside the home at places like offices or libraries, but most never log on anywhere. In a world of digital information, these people are “at a distinct disadvantage,” said John Horrigan, who oversaw the survey for the F.C.C.
Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the F.C.C., is promoting faster and more pervasive broadband infrastructure as a tenet of economic growth and democracy.
The study, conducted last fall, interviewed 5,005 residents by telephone. It indicates that the gap in access is no longer between slower dial-up and faster broadband; the overwhelming majority of people who have Internet access have broadband.
“Overall Internet penetration has been steady in the mid-70 to upper 70 percent range over the last five years,” Mr. Horrigan said in an interview on Monday. “Now we’re at a point where, if you want broadband adoption to go up by any significant measure, you really have to start to eat into the segment of non-Internet-users.”
Those nonusers are disproportionately older and more likely to live in rural areas. Those with household incomes of less than $50,000 are “much less likely” to have broadband access, according to the F.C.C. report.
Asked about the reasons for not having broadband at home, almost half of respondents cited a prohibitive cost, and almost as many said they were uncomfortable using a computer. Forty-five percent answered “yes” to the statement, “I am worried about all the bad things that can happen if I use the Internet.” Others said they viewed the Internet as a waste of time.
Respondents were able to give multiple answers, and most did. Consequently, “policy solutions that provide comprehensive aid to people are most likely to have the most payoff,” Mr. Horrigan said.
Twelve percent of those surveyed who had not adopted broadband said that they could not connect to broadband where they lived. Because this figure is self-reported by the residents, it may not be entirely accurate.
The F.C.C. was mandated by Congress to produce a detailed plan with specific recommendations to hasten the national adoption of broadband in the United States. The plan is expected to be unveiled by the F.C.C. on March 17. It will recommend, among other elements, an expansion of broadband adoption from the current 65 percent to more than 90 percent, Mr. Genachowski said in a blog post on an F.C.C. Web site last week.