Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

U.S. Broadband: Is it Half Empty, or Half Full?


Nearly half (about 47 percent) of all adult Americans now have a high-speed internet connection at home, according to the latest survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Keep in mind, high-speed is a relative term, since anything over 200kbps is considered "broadband" by the FCC.

The percentage of Americans with broadband at home has grown from 42 percent in early 2006 and 30 percent in early 2005. Among individuals who use the internet at home, 70 percent have a high-speed connection while nearly a quarter of Americans (about 23 percent) still use dial-up connections.

Is the U.S. broadband glass half-empty, or half-full? You decide. The 12 percent growth rate from 2006 to 2007 trails the 40 percent increase in the 2005 to 2006 timeframe, when many people in the middle-income and older age groups acquired home broadband connections.

Those groups continued to show increases in home broadband adoption into early 2007, but at much lower rates than in the past:

- Among adults who live in households whose annual incomes fall between $30,000 and $50,000 annually, home broadband adoption stood at 46 percent in early 2007, up 3 percentage points since 2006.

- Among senior citizens (age 65 and older), home broadband adoption stood at 15 percent in early 2007, up 2 percentage points since 2006.

- Among people between the ages of 50 and 64, 40 percent have home high-speed connections, up 2 percentage points since 2006.

"The moderate growth in home high-speed adoption from 2006 to 2007 is partly a reflection of strong prior-year growth; the low-hanging fruit was picked in 2005," said John B. Horrigan, Associate Director of Research at the Pew Internet & American Life project and author of the report. "Luring remaining hard-to-get adults to home broadband is likely to involve showing them the relevance of online content."

In contrast, I have a different perspective. Think back to the 1970s and imagine that half of the U.S. population received mail and packages that were distributed and delivered by plane, train or automobile -- yet the other half had to rely upon a horse-drawn stagecoach, or the Pony Express in remote areas. Implausible? Maybe not, if people would gladly accept the inequality.

"Broadband adoption in rural America faces two challenges -- network availability and demographics," said Aaron Smith, research specialist at the Pew Internet Project and co-author of the report. "Rural Americans tend to be older, less avid online users, and thus less interested in fast home connections. And some parts rural America also simply don't have the infrastructure for providing broadband at home."