Surprise! Cost, Digital Literacy at Heart of Broadband Gap

The Federal Communications Commission this morning released results from its national broadband consumer survey, and the findings will surprise no one. The FCC, which will officially present the document in Washington on Tuesday morning, found that affordability and a lack of digital literacy are the primary reasons one-third of Americans don’t have high-speed Internet access at home.

According to the survey, 6 percent of Americans use the Internet but have no access at home, while another 6 percent use a dial-up connection at home. Twenty-two percent said they simply don’t access the Internet at all. More than one-third of those who don’t have high-speed web access at home cited the cost of a computer or Internet service, or said they wanted to avoid a long-term contract. Others said they lack digital skill or were fearful of potential online hazards or — astoundingly — that the web “is just a waste of time.”

The FCC is hoping to help address cost concerns by giving schools more flexibility to allow the public to use broadband services (PDF) during non-operating hours. And the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) this week awarded $357 million in grants to bring high-speed Internet to public housing developments, community colleges and underserved rural areas.

But bringing high-speed access to those who fear the web or don’t understand its value is likely to be even more difficult than addressing the affordability gap. Which is why it is up to developers and online publishers to continue to offer innovative, immersive experiences and applications to draw new users to the web. E-mail is largely credited with driving the demand for dial-up Internet services more than a decade ago, and the rise of Apple’s iTunes and other entertainment offerings fueled the move to high-speed connections. Online social networks may be able to help close the broadband gap by making it even easier for users to upload photos, for instance, and share content with friends. Because while the FCC can certainly help bring broadband to those who don’t yet have it, there isn’t much the agency can do to convince people to use it.

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Top image courtesy Flickr user Caliaetu; thumbnail image courtesy of  Flickr user OSde8info.

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