Survey: Broadband Growth Slowing in the US

Broadband adoption in the U.S. grew by 5 percent over the past year, the smallest increase since 2004, according to a survey that's widely recognized as an authority on broadband use in the country.

About 66 percent of U.S. adults now subscribe to broadband at home, compared to 63 percent in 2009, according to the survey, released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. That translates into a 5 percent rate of change, while the rate of change was between 12 and 17 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Broadband adoption by U.S. adults grew by 28 percent between 2005 and 2006, and 21 percent between 2004 and 2005.

The survey also found that 53 percent of respondents said they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority, despite major efforts by President Barack Obama's administration and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to push broadband deployment and adoption.

The results showing a slowing of broadband adoption aren't surprising, said Aaron Smith, author of the report based on the survey. Most of the remaining adults who do not subscribe to broadband have no interest in getting online, he said.

Nearly half of nonusers say they don't see the Internet as relevant to their lives, according to the survey. "The pool of people available to become adopters ... don't see a lot of relevance to online content and they're not particularly comfortable using the technology," Smith said. "The remaining people who don't have it are a little bit tougher sell at this point."

In addition, continuing concerns about the U.S. economy may be discouraging some nonsubscribers from buying broadband, Smith said. "People don't have a lot of disposable income at the moment to be spending on these types of things," he said. "Economic hard times, combined with a lot of barriers and general reluctance on the part of nonadopters, have certainly cause things to slow down quite a bit."

One group where broadband adoption grew significantly was African-American adults. The percentage of African-Americans adults with a home broadband connection grew from 46 percent in April 2009 to 56 percent in May 2010, for a rate of increase of 22 percent. The broadband adoption among African-American adults continues to trial white adults, who have a 67 percent adoption rate, but the gap between the two groups fell from 19 percent in 2009.

About 80 percent of U.S. adults between ages 18 and 29 have home broadband connections in 2010, as well 75 percent of adults between ages 30 and 49. Only 31 percent of U.S. adults age 65 and older have home broadband service, up from 30 percent in 2009.

Fifty percent of adults in rural settings have home broadband, while 70 percent of adults in nonrural areas have service.

Pew also asked survey respondents if programs to expand broadband availability should be a priority for the U.S. government. Only 11 percent said it should be a top priority, while 30 percent said it should be a lower priority. Another 27 percent of survey respondents said government programs were "not too important," and 26 percent said the government should not spend money on broadband.

In early 2009, the U.S. Congress allocated US$7.2 billion for broadband deployment and adoption programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a huge economic stimulus bill. The FCC also released a national broadband plan early this year, with the agency advocating that it redirect more than $15 billion from a fund to subsidize telephone service to broadband programs.

Concerns about government spending and jobs may be driving people to place a low priority on broadband, Smith said.

"People are really focused right now on making the economy better, on jobs, on those sorts of pocketbook issues," he said. "People are under a lot of economic stress, there's a lot of concerns about government spending, and any sort of government spending is a hard sell in this environment."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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