The Broadband-Nevers


There’s been obsessive attention about the extent of “cord cutting” in the pay TV industry.

But there is an even bigger segment of the U.S. population cable and telco should be watching: call them the “broadband nevers.”

About 22% of adult Americans say they do not use the Internet — at all — according to an August 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, released on Friday.

Internet adoption has soared since 1995, when only about 10% of the adult population was going online. But there remains a substantial number of people who are offline.

Indeed, according to Pew’s surveys, households with broadband declined from 66% in 2010 to 62% in 2011 (while dial-up fell from 5% to 3%).

What explains this Internet gap?

According to Pew, 48% of non-Internet users say the main reason they don’t go online now is because they don’t think the Internet is “relevant.” About 21% cited price reasons, and a similar number cite “usability” issues, such as not knowing how to go online or being physically unable to, according to Pew. Only 6% say that a lack of access or availability is the main reason they don’t go online.

Programs like Comcast’s $9.95-per-month Internet Essentials go toward the affordability and, to some extent, “digital literacy” (see Comcast To Widen Low-Income Broadband Program, Double Speeds).

But if half of offline Americans don’t believe the Internet is of any use to them, they’re unlikely to seek it out — no matter what the price point.

In its most recent study, Pew found that neither race nor gender were good predictors for “Internet-nevers.” Rather, age (being 65 or older), lacking a high school education and having a low household income (less than $20,000 per year) are the strongest negative predictors for Internet use.

So for broadband providers, the good news is that Internet usage skews toward younger Americans: 94% of those 18-29 used the Internet in 2011, versus 41% of those 65-plus.

It stands to reason that there will be strong broadband demand from this generation in the years ahead. A teenager today can’t imagine life without the ‘Net. On the other hand: Do they feel the same way about TV?

Pew’s Internet Project tracking survey was fielded from July 25-Aug. 26, 2011 by phone, in English and Spanish, to 2,260 adults age 18 and older. The margin of error for the full sample is 2 percentage points.


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