FCC says 93M in U.S. lack broadband, digital divide grows

Agency survey finds cost, lack of digital skills, behind lack of access

A survey by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shows that cost and lack of digital skills are the main reasons a third of Americans do not get high-speed Internet connections at home.

The survey and the associated report, "Broadband Adoption and Use in America," were released today (download PDF). It estimates that 93 million adults and children over age 5 do not get broadband Internet at home, about 35% of the nation.

The finding points to a growing digital divide for Internet access, since companies such as Google are interested in investing in super-fast Internet connections to homes and businesses using fiber optic cables that many say would undoubtedly serve more affluent users.

"We need to tackle the challenge of connecting 93 million Americans to our broadband future," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement timed with the release of the survey. "In the 21st century, a digital divide is an opportunity divide."

He added that job creation and American competitiveness abroad require that "all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy."

The telephone survey of 5,005 adults last fall includes 2,334 adults who said they are not broadband users at home. It precedes the FCC's delivery of a National Broadband Plan to Congress.

In its plan, due March 17, the FCC is expected to detail a strategy for connecting the U.S. to affordable broadband to help create jobs and economic growth.

For the survey, home broadband users included those who relied on one of the following technologies: cable modem, DSL, fixed wireless, satellite fiber optic, T-1, or a mobile broadband wireless connection to a computer or cell phone. No specific throughput, or speed, was specified. The survey also found that 6% of Americans still use dial-up Internet connections from home.

The survey found three main barriers to the adoption of broadband: affordability, digital literacy and relevance.

About one-third of the group that hasn't adopted broadband cited cost concerns: the monthly fee was too expensive; they could not afford a computer; the installation fee was too high; or they didn't want to enter a long-term service contract. The survey found the average monthly broadband bill for all users was $41.

About 22% of the group said they lacked digital skills or were concerned about the hazards of going online, including the security of their personal information or being exposed to in appropriate content.

And about 19% said they didn't get broadband because they find the Internet to be a waste of time or don't see any online content of interest. Dial-up users said they remain content with their current service.

John Horrigan, the author of the 51-page report issued with the survey and director of consumer research for the Omnibus Broadband Initiative, said multiple solutions will be required to address the broadband gap in the U.S. Those include lower costs of service and hardware, helping communities develop online skills and telling them about applications that are relevant to their lives.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed @matthamblen or subscribe to . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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