RealTime IT News

Low-Income Americans Slipping on Broadband

A new study from the Pew Internet Project has found that while overall broadband adoption is up, the portion of African Americans with high-speed Internet access showed only modest growth in the past year, while among lower-income households it actually declined.

The survey found that 55 percent of all adult Americans have broadband service, up from 47 percent in a similar study conducted in early 2007.

Among African Americans, home broadband access dropped from 40 percent to 43 percent in the same period. For households earning less than $20,000 a year, broadband adoption dropped from 28 percent to 25 percent.

"The flat growth in home high-speed adoption for low-income Americans suggests that tightening household budgets may be affecting people's choice of connection speed at home," said John Horrigan, author of the report.

The study comes amid increasing anxiety about a digital divide in the United States, a concern heightened by a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the multinational economic forum that ranked the United States as No. 15 in average broadband speed among the 30 countries it measured.

Another research group, IDC, has reported that China eclipsed the United States in total Internet users last year.

One group looking to make the digital divide a part of the national debate is Internet for Everyone, a nonprofit coalition of public-interest groups and businesses formed last month to press for a national broadband policy.

Then, too, the Federal Communications Commission has floated a plan to sell off a swath of wireless spectrum in auction that would require the winning bidder to provide broadband access to at least 95 percent of the country within 10 years.

Broadband deployment is often characterized as a problem of rural America, where Internet service providers have been slower to build out their networks than in more densely populated areas. But the Pew researchers reported that 38 percent of rural Americans have broadband service at home, a 23 percent increase since 2007.

Broadband adoption among lower and middle-income families -- defined as those with annual incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 -- increased 24 percent last year to reach 45 percent of people in that segment.

Among older Americans, Pew found that about half of those between the ages of 50 and 64 have broadband access at home, compared with just 19 percent of those 65 and older.

Pew also found that a full 27 percent of Americans do not have any form of Internet access. They tend to be older and of lower income; one-third of them say that they are simply not interested in getting online.

Cost is another factor for both non-Internet users and those who are hesitant to upgrade from dial-up.

"Broadband is more costly on a monthly basis than dial-up, and some lower income Americans may be unwilling to take on another expense," Horrigan said.

The average monthly broadband bill was $34.50 in Pew's most recent survey. Dial-up subscribers reported an average bill of $19.70.