Study: Maine Has Average Broadband Access for U.S., but Lags Behind the Rest of New England

Economists and educators in the state have been promoting broadband access as a means to grow communities, businesses and education.

by Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News / August 10, 2018

(TNS) — Maine is virtually on par with the number of U.S. households having a broadband Internet subscription, a U.S. Census Bureau study released Wednesday finds.

Economists and educators in the state and country have been promoting broadband access as a means to grow communities, businesses and education, especially in a largely rural state like Maine. The report did not include dial-up Internet access through landlines.

For example, Bangor on July 23 said it might fork over its own money to install high-speed broadband throughout the city, calling broadband an "essential infrastructure."

An order backing the proposal said that locations that provided advanced broadband access “are surpassing those that do not, in terms of social, economic and knowledge development.” It compared broadband to essential services like water and electricity.

The United States as a whole averaged 81.4 percent of its households having a broadband Internet subscription in 2016. That compares with 80.7 percent in Maine.

While Maine fell in the middle of the pack of states having subscriptions, it lagged all other New England states, with New Hampshire leading the group with 86.4 percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau study noted that the number of U.S. households with computers increased tenfold from 1984 — three years after IBM introduced its first personal computer, popularizing the idea of affordable home computers — to 2015, when 79 percent of households owned computers. In 2016, that percentage jumped to 89 percent, “making it a common feature of everyday life,” the study said.

And people are using computers from broad applications from online banking, entertainment and socializing to accessing health care.

The 89 percent of people with computers includes smartphones and other portable devices. Still, most households, some 77 percent, use laptop or desktop computers to access the Internet.

The study showed socio-economic divides between the types of broadband services in households.

The 48 percent that had high connectivity — meaning a laptop or desktop computer, a smartphone, a tablet and a broadband Internet connection — generally also had a higher income. About 80 percent made $150,000 or more, while only 21 percent made less than $25,000.

Additionally, households that tended to have smartphone-only broadband connection tended to be low income, African American or Hispanic.

The study did not give state estimates for other major factors such as the age of the user. The study’s author was not immediately available for comment.

Not surprisingly, households headed by a person age 65 or older lagged those with younger occupants in both computer ownership and having a household subscription.

The gap was especially notable with smartphone ownership and use. Some 93 percent of householders age 15 to 34 had a smartphone compared with 49 percent of those 65 years or older.

Education also played a role. Of householders 25 years or older, 56 percent had an Internet subscription compared to 93 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

©2018 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.