Tag Archives: pew research

Broadband service subsidies not popular in rural areas

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“Local governments should be able to build their own high-speed networks if the service in their area is too expensive or not good enough”, say 70% of people in the U.S.. According to a survey done by Pew Research, the concept of municipal broadband gets overwhelming bipartisan support: 74% of people identifying themselves as democrats and 67% as republicans agreed with that statement.

Care should be taken not to read too much into this ringing endorsement, though. People’s opinions changed radically when asked about spending government money on broadband service and whether it, in fact, costs too much or runs too slowly…

Fewer than half of Americans (44%) think the government should provide subsidies to help lower-income Americans pay for high-speed internet at home. A larger share (54%) says high-speed home internet service is affordable enough that nearly every household should be able to buy service on its own…

Americans have different levels of support for broadband subsidies based on political affiliation. Six-in-ten Democrats and independents who lean Democratic say the government should help lower-income Americans purchase high-speed internet service, but that figure falls to just 24% among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. These partisan differences stand in stark contrast to attitudes toward municipal broadband networks.

The divide is almost as stark between rural and urban residents. Half of people in urban areas think subsidising broadband service is okay and more than half think it’s not affordable for everyone. On the other hand, in rural areas, where broadband service tends to be slower and dearer than in cities, only 36% thought it should be subsidised and 63% think it’s fast and affordable enough for everyone.

Philosophically, Americans are comfortable with the idea of adding broadband to the list of services a city might or might not providing. In that respect, they seem to put it into the same bucket as water or electricity, which are delivered by both municipalities and private companies, depending on local circumstances and history. But the Pew study also indicates that it’s likely to be an uphill battle to convince them that their tax money should be spent on cheaper or faster Internet service. Particularly in communities most likely to lack it.

More low income homes are smartphone-only as homework gap grows

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Barely more than half of U.S. households with incomes less than $30,000 a year have bona fide broadband service, and disproportionately rely exclusively on smart phones for Internet access. A report published by the Pew Research Center shows a growing gap between the quality and quantity of broadband access they have to rely on, and that enjoyed by higher income households, those with $100,000 or more in annual earnings. This disparity impacts their ability to find jobs and get an education…

In 2016, one-fifth of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year were “smartphone-only” internet users – meaning they owned a smartphone but did not have broadband internet at home. This represents an increase from 12% in 2013. In contrast, only 4% of those living in households earning $100,000 or more fell into this category in either year…

This reliance on smartphones also means that the less affluent are more likely to use them for tasks traditionally reserved for larger screens. For example, lower-income smartphone owners were especially likely to use their mobile device when seeking out and applying for jobs, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.

The disparity in online access is also apparent in what has been called the “homework gap,” or the gap between school-age children who have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t. Some 5 million school-age children do not have a broadband internet connection at home, with low-income households accounting for a disproportionate share.

It’s worth keeping in mind as incumbent telcos that are also mobile carriers – here in California, that would be AT&T – dispatch lobbyists to talk up wireless plans while scheming to yank out wireline service in rural and inner city communities. The same communities where lower income Californians can be disproportionately found.

A smartphone is a poor, and the poor’s, choice for broadband

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If a smartphone was the killer Internet access solution that AT&T claims it is – usually when trying to divert attention from substandard or even non-existent wireline service in rural and inner city communities – then you’d expect to see something like an even spread of usage cases across demographic groups.

The Pew Foundation’s latest research shows that is clearly not the case.

Overall, 12% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, but do not otherwise use the Internet at home. A deeper dive into those numbers indicates, though, it’s not a matter of style or choice. Only 5% of high earners rely solely on a smartphone, while 21% of those in the lowest income bracket – less than $30,000 a year – do.

The gap is even bigger when education is factored in. Again, 5% of highly educated adults are smartphone-only, versus 27% of those without a high school diploma.

There is also stratification by age and race. Blacks (15%) are more likely than whites (9%) to be smartphone reliant, and latinos even more so (23%). Pew didn’t provide cross tabs, but I’ll speculate that if the numbers were broken out by income and education levels, those would be the significant factors.

The age spread is less, but still significant. Adults under 30 years old come in at 17%, while 7% of those 65 and up are in the smartphone-only category. Again, income and education levels are likely more determinative, but the basic gating question – does a person use the Internet or not? – is probably the main explanation for the gap. There’s a big age divide between those two age groups when it comes to Internet adoption – at home or on a smartphone – 99% versus 64%.

There’s no gender difference in smartphone-only rates – men and women are both at the overall average of 12%. There’s also no significant difference between urban and suburban (both 12%) and rural (14%) areas, although differences in availability were not factored into Pew’s numbers.

Some U.S. adults probably do rely solely on smartphones as a matter of choice, but the income and education gaps indicate that necessity – a simple lack of economic choice – is the real driver.

U.S. Internet use up, but age, income, education matter

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More people in the U.S. have broadband service at home than ever before, according to the latest numbers released by the Pew Foundation. After a couple of years where residential adoption dipped, it’s on the way back up, albeit unevenly…

Between 2013 and 2015, the share of Americans with home broadband service decreased slightly – from 70% to 67%. But in the past year, broadband adoption rates have returned to an upward trajectory. As of November 2016, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Americans indicate that they have broadband service at home. But although broadband adoption has increased to its highest level since the Center began tracking this topic in early 2000, not all Americans have shared in these gains. For instance, those who have not graduated from high school are nearly three times less likely than college graduates to have home broadband service (34% vs. 91%). Broadband adoption also varies by factors such as age, household income, geographic location and racial and ethnic background.

Overall, a record 88% of U.S. adults make use of the Internet, either at home or elsewhere. Again, that use is not evenly distributed throughout the population. Pretty much all adults younger than 30 years old – 99% – are connected, but less than two-thirds as many – 64% – of people 65 and older go online.

Income and education matter – there’s a clear drop from the 98% usage level among the highest earning and best educated adults to the 79% adoption rate among those in the lowest income category and 68% among the least educated. Where people live matters, too – urban and suburban residents are right around 90% mark, but rural Internet use is significantly lower at 81%.

On the other hand, race and gender don’t seem to be a factor according to the Pew study, at least from a top level analysis perspective. Men and women, and whites, blacks and latinos are within 3% of each other – all in the mid to high 80% range.

Expert opinion: Internet companies play the cards as dealt, dammit

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Pew Research asked more than 1,400 people it considers to be experts in Internet philosophy about what they think the future holds. The businesses that built the Internet are killing it, they said…

While there is no one definition of Net neutrality, it is generally expressed as the idea that the best public network should be operated in such a way as to treat all senders and receivers of content as equally as is technologically possible while maintaining information flows well. Corporate goals to serve customers and shareholders can be in conflict with this.

The chief counsel for a major foundation wrote, “Collusive and anti-competitive practices by telecommunications operators threaten the re-creation of an Internet controlled by people.” A post-doctoral researcher wrote, “We are seeing an increase in walled gardens created by giants like Facebook and Apple … Commercialization of the Internet, paradoxically, is the biggest challenge to the growth of the Internet. Communication networks’ lobbying against Net neutrality is the biggest example of this.”

I probably shouldn’t disagree with 1,400 experts. But what the hell. They are pointing to a genuine problem, but then misidentifying the source of it. Businesses – successful ones, anyway – are competitive and they will play whatever game they find themselves in to the max. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

The problem is that someone else writes many of the rules they compete under. Communications networks aren’t hiring lobbyists because they’re commercialised. They hire lobbyists because that’s how you play the game in Washington (and Sacramento and city hall and…). A game that was, in the final analysis, designed by political interests.

Internet companies were fiercely commercial from the very beginning. What’s changed is the degree to which politics, rather than microeconomics, determines winners and losers. To be sure, there are many big Internet companies, and big groups of small companies, that have enthusiastically fed that trend. But they didn’t create it: it was there to be stoked.