March 20, 2012 By Noelle Knell
The National Broadband Plan, a policy document issued by the FCC in March 2010, details the role of government in increasing national broadband access, cited as “a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”
The plan identifies several primary ways for government to influence broadband adoption: encourage competition in the marketplace, examine the most efficient use of government resources, incentivize broadband availability and adoption, and align public policies and standards with broadband infrastructure goals in key economic sectors where government is a major player, including health care, education, energy, public safety and homeland security.
Given the priority placed on encouraging wider broadband adoption, many are wondering why there hasn’t been more progress in the two years since it was released. According to data compiled by the federal government, home broadband adoption has experienced only minimal growth, from 65 percent of Americans in 2009 to 68 percent in fall 2011.
The slow growth might be even more surprising given the huge leaps in consumer technology use over the past few years. Consider the rate of smartphone adoption by U.S. adults: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported 17 percent adoption as of February 2009 and 46 percent adoption in February 2012. App usage skyrocketed as well between mid-2010 and the end of 2011, with average daily use going from 43 minutes to 94 minutes per smartphone user.
TechNet, a network of chief executives from the tech industry, released research this week that aims to explain why home broadband adoption hasn’t kept pace. According to TechNet, non-broadband users, for one, come from demographic segments that are less likely to adopt any new technology: in general, they are poorer, less educated and older. The recessionary economic climate has also caused individual households to cut back on Internet access services, viewed by some as an unnecessary luxury.
Rey Ramsey, president and CEO of TechNet, said in a statement that the U.S. risks “second-class status” if policymakers and the private sector don’t address these challenges.
The research makes several recommendations to propel broadband adoption forward in coming years.
1. Improved coordination — A best practices clearinghouse would unite disparate information sources and promote understanding of local broadband opportunities. Better coordination between state broadband authorities, and among federal agencies, could also help propel broadband initiatives forward.
2. Enhanced assessment — Ongoing public investments in broadband infrastructure, such as the $500 million Sustainable Broadband Adoption and Public Computing Center program, need better monitoring and assessment, to inform the most effective use of limited dollars going forward.
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