Commerce: Broadband Adoption Rising, But Divides Remain

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Broadband adoption is on the rise, but adoption gaps persist.

That was the key takeaway from a Department of Commerce report, Digital Nation II.

The results of the survey, from Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Association and Statistics Administration, was collated from 54,000 homes in October 2009. It was was previewed earlier this year with the news that while broadband adoption was rising in virtually all demos, and seven out of 10 households had used the Internet in 2009, almost a quarter of households had nobody using the 'net.

While income and education continue to be key factors in use, there are still divides along geography, ethnicity and race that are not entirely explainable by a socio-economic difference, according to the study.

Urban homes are more likely to adopt broadband than rural, even accounting for differences in income.

Not surprisingly, the elderly were found to be much less likely than young people to use broadband at home. Affordability and demand were generally the largest factors in non-use among the four major factors for not having Internet access ("Lack of need or interest, lack of affordability, lack of an adequate computer, and lack of availability"). Those two reasons accounted for two-thirds of the non-adopters.

The full report was released the same day the NTIA was holding a forum on spectrum management and reclaiming government and other spectrum for use in wireless broadband. The government sees that as a way to speed adoption.

"Americans who lack broadband Internet access are cut off from many educational and employment opportunities," said NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling in announcing the study's release. "The learning from today's report is that there is no simple ‘one size fits all' solution to closing the digital divide. A combination of approaches makes sense, including targeted outreach programs to rural and minority populations emphasizing the benefits of broadband.

NTIA is currently trying to address the adoption gap via billions of dollars in stimulus grants in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program program.

Cable operators are concerned the money could be used to overbuild existing service rather than extending it to un-served areas, where cable ops believe the government's priority should be.

The FCC has made adoption a priority in its National Broadband Plan and agency hairman Julius Genachowski said Monday that closing the gaps identified by the report was crucual to that effort. "The digital divide is an opportunity divide," he said in response to the report. "if you can't get online, you can't compete in the digital economy. The NTIA's new report provides an in-depth look at the persistent gaps between the digital haves and digital have-nots. Closing these gaps is one of the top priorities of the FCC's National Broadband Plan and a key focus of the agency. Connecting America to fast, affordable Internet will create 21st century jobs that grow our economy and secure our global leadership."

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