Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lack of broadband adoption—not lack of availability—driving digital divide, writer says

The digital divide, the disparity in adoption of broadband between rural and urban households, has increased, especially for the elderly and the poor. High broadband adoption rates bring about economic growth in rural areas, and federal policies to address the problem usually involve funding initiatives to provide more broadband access. "In fact, of the $7.2 billion made available for broadband funding during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, over 90 percent was focused on providing infrastructure," Brian Whitacre reports for The Daily Yonder.

However, according to recent research, the problem needs to be addressed through encouraging broadband adoption, not just increasing availability. A Current Population Survey asked why people don't use broadband. "No need" was the top response for rural households, and "not available" accounted for fewer than 5 percent of the responses in 2011. "The 'no need' response has increased over time while the 'not available' response has decreased," Whitacre writes. Lack of demand—not supply—of broadband is the chief reason behind the gap.
The Daily Yonder chart showing respondents' reasons for not using broadband.
To further examine the divide, "we used a technique that allows us to predict hypothetical broadband adoption rates," Whiteacre writes. "If we gave rural characteristics (such as education, income, age, etc.) to urban households—what would happen to the urban adoption rate? . . . Similarly, if we replaced urban levels of broadband availability (which are typically very good) with those found in rural areas (which are typically not as good), what would happen to the urban adoption rates?"

The results of the study predict that if rural households had socioeconomic characteristics typical of urban ones, 52 percent of the percentage point gap in the digital divide would vanish, and if urban households had broadband infrastructures typical of rural areas, 38 percent of the gap would vanish. (Read more)

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