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Commerce: Broadband Adoption Rising, But Divides Remain

Broadband adoption is on the rise, but adoption
gaps persist. That was the takeaway from a Department of Commerce report,
Digital Nation II.

The survey, from Commerce's National
Telecommunications & Information Association (NTIA) and Statistics
Administration, was of 54,000 homes and was conducted in October 2009. It
was was previewed earlier this year with the news that while broadband
adoption was rising in virtually all demos, and seven out of ten households had
used the Internet in 2009, almost a quarter of households had nobody using
the 'net.

While income and education continue to be key
factors in use, there are still divides along geography, ethnicity and race
that are not entirely explainable by a socio-economic difference, according to
the study.

Urban homes are more likely to adopt broadband
than rural, even accounting for differences in income.

Not surprisingly, the elderly were found to be
much less likely than young people to use broadband at home. Affordability and
demand were generally the largest factors in non-use among the four major
factors for not having Internet access ("Lack of need or interest, lack of
affordability, lack of an adequate computer, and lack of availability").
Those two reasons accounted for two-thirds of the non-adopters.

The full report was released the same day
the NTIA was holding a forum on spectrum management and reclaiming
government and other spectrum for use in wireless broadband. The government
sees that as a way to speed adoption.

"Americans who lack broadband Internet access
are cut off from many educational and employment opportunities,"
said NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling in announcing the study's
release. "The learning from today's report is that there is no simple ‘one
size fits all' solution to closing the digital divide. A combination of
approaches makes sense, including targeted outreach programs to rural and
minority populations emphasizing the benefits of broadband.

NTIA is currently trying to address the
adoption gap via billions of dollars in stimulus grants in the Broadband
Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) program.

Cable operators are concerned the money could be used to overbuild
existing service rather than extending it to un-served areas, where cable
ops believe the government's priority should be.

The FCC has made adoption a priority in its National Broadband Plan and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Monday that closing the gaps identified by the report was crucual to that effort. "The digital divide is an opportunity divide," he said in response to the report. "if you can't get online, you can't compete in the digital economy. The NTIA's new report provides an in-depth look at the persistent gaps between the digital haves and digital have-nots. Closing these gaps is one of the top priorities of the FCC's National Broadband Plan and a key focus of the agency. Connecting America to fast, affordable Internet will create 21st Century jobs that grow our economy and secure our global leadership."