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February 26, 2010

We’re Digitally Distressed At How Much This Is Going To Cost Us

The Federal Communications Commission this week released the results of an extensive survey (pdf) that was designed to assess American’s attitudes towards broadband, uncovering the shocking truth that 35% of adults do not have broadband at home.

Think about that.  Millions of Americans still have to go to a newsstand to view pornography, never mind that watching videos of cats doing amusing things, girl fights, and pirated episodes of Lost is nothing more than a fleeting dream.

The biggest barrier:  Cost.

We don’t know about you, but we’re not sure we want to live in an America where people purchase only the things they can afford.

Fortunately, we probably won’t have to. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is set to submit a “National Broadband Plan” to Congress on March 17, which:

"Will be a strategy for US global leadership in high-speed Internet to create jobs and spur economic growth; to unleash new waves of innovation and investment; and to improve education, health care, energy efficiency, public safety, and the vibrancy of our democracy."

(Unfortunately, while Chairman Genachowski can improve the vibrancy of our democracy and unleash new waves of innovation, he cannot apparently establish peace in the Middle East or bring an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. He’s only a man (or possibly semi-deity), after all.)

As part of the study, FCC researchers broke down broadband “non-adopters” into four categories:

  • Near Converts
  • Digital Hopefuls
  • Digitally Uncomfortable
  • Digitally Distant

If you are like most Americans, three questions probably pop into your mind:

1) Am I paying for this?
2) Seriously, am I paying for this?
3) Because if I’m paying for this, I’m going to be really ticked off.

Sure, you’re paying for it, but that’s not what’s important, what is important, is that the study went far beyond carefully identifying whether or not you are digitally uncomfortable or distant (perhaps the Internet didn’t take enough interest in you as a child) and made many other important discoveries including:

The people who don’t have broadband at home because they think it costs too much would be willing to get broadband at home if it cost less.  (We smell a Nobel Prize in there somewhere)

61% of broadband users know what “refresh” means, while only 16% know what a “widget” is. (We must address this refresh-widget divide before it… well, we don’t know what, we just know that they wouldn’t have surveyed it if it wasn’t important.)

While only 65% of Americans have broadband at home, 86% have a cell phone and a similar percentage have cable or satellite TV (strongly suggesting that 21% of Americans are choosing to spend their money in ways that Chairman Genachowski does not approve of and in so doing are imperiling his dream of improving the vibrancy of our democracy through their reckless exercise in free choice).

Rural non-adopters are twice as likely to cite the lack of access to broadband service as a reason for not having broadband at home.  (Rural non-adopters also have a lack of access to filthy air, transit strikes and gridlock compared to their urban counterparts.  Maybe we can do something about that too. Just to be fair, of course.)

According to John Horrigan, (pdf) Director of Consumer Research for the Omnibus Broadband Initiative, “The gap in broadband adoption is a problem with many different dimensions that will require many different solutions,” including, “lowering costs of service or hardware.” 

Well, lowering them for some people. 

We have a feeling they’ll be going up for you.


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February 26, 2010 at 03:15 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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I am shocked. Just shocked to learn that some people seem to think that our government is wasting money. I mean, they do everything else efficiently don't they? I am sure that they can bring the same level of efficiency, customer service, frugalness, and the general all-round niceness exhibited by the IRS to the broadband market.

Posted by: RalphDaly28 | Feb 28, 2010 1:07:58 PM

Yep, you (as a taxpayer and consumer) are already paying for this. Hundreds of thousands of billable hours for lawyers filing papers, debating, suing. (Just look at the volumes of filings at the FCC.) Lost opportunities due to fewer choices of broadband providers (because investors are being spooked by the prospect of regulation). Billions in ARRA broadband funds going to financially unsustainable projects that will collapse due to "network neutrality" restrictions. And, if the FCC issues the rules in its NPRM, even more restrictions on what you can buy and how it can be provided. (See, for example, my filing at http://www.brettglass.com/nprmcomment.pdf)

What's more, the proceeding is distracting the FCC from fixing problems that actually need fixing, such as the (government-induced) market failure in "middle mile" data transport.

Posted by: Brett Glass | Feb 28, 2010 12:05:35 PM

Your 21% figure is of course low. I know several people who have broadband internet but not cable television.

Posted by: Amarsir | Feb 27, 2010 2:28:49 PM

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