Study Finds Broadband Adoption Up 15%

The portion of adult Americans with broadband access in their homes has risen to 63 percent, a 15 percent increase from a year earlier, according to a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The steep climb came despite an increase in the average cost consumers reported paying for broadband service, suggesting that the Internet has taken on an enduring consumer value even in an economic downturn.

In May 2008, consumers reported an average monthly broadband bill of $34.50. This year, Pew reported an average rate of $39.

Survey respondents told Pew that they would be twice as likely to cancel cell phone service or cable than switch off their broadband connections.

“For many Americans, a home broadband connection is a conduit for connecting to community and economic opportunity,” study author John Horrigan said in a statement. “That puts broadband in the ‘must keep’ category for most users, even when economic times are tough.”

Pew’s studies on Internet adoption are widely cited by policymakers and advocacy groups in the debate over the government’s role in guiding the broadband market. That’s been an active conversation in recent months, as concerns mount that the United States is falling behind its foreign competitors in bringing high-speed Internet access to the widest possible consumer base.

Among the legislative and regulatory proposals on the issue, the economic stimulus package is the most prominent. That bill set aside $7.2 billion for broadband projects, and directed the Federal Communications Commission to develop a national broadband strategy.

But policymakers acknowledge that the stimulus bill was only a down payment on universal connectivity. Among the other proposals on the table is the so-called “dig once” bill introduced this week by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Warner, D-Va.. The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act would require transportation projects that use federal funds to lay fiber optic cable alongside the road or rail line, essentially designed to avoid digging the same trench twice.

By the numbers

Within the general category of “broadband,” prices varied by speed. Pew found that subscribers to premium services with faster connections pay an average of $7.5 more than subscribers to basic plans.

Pew also found evidence that competition in the broadband market drives down prices. The 21 percent of broadband subscribers in areas with one provider reported an average monthly bill of $44.70, compared to areas with more than one provider, where consumers paid an average of $38.30.

In areas with four or more providers, encompassing 17 percent of all broadband users, the survey respondents reported an average bill of $32.10.

By demographic, Pew founds a steep (58 percent) uptick in the portion of senior citizens who subscribe to broadband, up from 19 percent last May to 30 percent this year.

The survey also found healthy increases in broadband uptake among low-income and rural Americans, though both of those groups still show minority adoption rates.

African Americans reported lower-than-average increases in adoption rates, with just 46 percent saying they have a broadband connection, up from 43 percent in 2008.

Among the survey respondents without broadband — those who either have dial-up or no connection at all — half said they didn’t find high-speed Internet relevant to their lives. Nineteen percent cited price — referring either to the cost of service or a computer, and 17 percent said service wasn’t available.

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