Federal Communications Commission

Broadband Adoption Barriers

August 25th, 2009 by John Horrigan - Consumer Research Director, Ombnibus Broadband Initiative.

John HorriganThe great thing about bringing people together to talk about broadband adoption data is that you always get new ideas for questions to pursue in the future. At the "Building the Fact" base workshop last week, this dynamic played out as expected. Susannah Fox, from the Pew Internet Project, reminded listeners of the growth in broadband adoption at home from just 3% of Americans in 2000 to 63% as of April 2009. Link Hoewing at Verizon noted the fast adoption pace of broadband relative to other communications technologies. But he, and others, pointed out how we have likely entered a maturing phase on the adoption curve, meaning that reaching the remaining 37% of non-adopters will be a challenge. Peter Stenberg from the Agriculture Department highlighted particular challenges for rural Americans.

We were also reminded how strongly broadband can impact how people get information. Susannah Fox had a striking statistic: 42% of all adults say they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the internet. This represents a significant increase since 2006 when 25% of all adults reported being aware of helpful outcomes. As wireless access means become more prominent, as CTIA's Christopher Guttman-McCabe said, these kinds of trends, as well as content sharing, will be reinforced.

How to address the remaining non-broadband adopters in the U.S? Karen Archer Perry and Kate Williams both provided insightful suggestions. Both noted the human element in adoption-promotion efforts, saying that there must be a social infrastructure to promote adoption. That is, non-adopters need nearby training programs, where teachers can not only help build digital skills, but demonstrate the relevance of particular applications. The goal is to motivate people to access broadband, grow their confidence in using it, and allow broadband and online content to enrich their lives more and more over time.

All the panelists' ideas are wonderful food for thought as Task Force thinks through broadband adoption barriers.

12 Responses to “Broadband Adoption Barriers”

  1. Linda Zuckerman says:

    There are already candidates to host local broadband training programs all across the country: the nation's public libraries. Libraries are the perfect places to demonstrate uses of broadband to those who are not sure how it may apply to them. In fact, many public libraries already have computer training programs in place.

    Society's investment in public libraries is expressly for this purpose, to help local communities adapt to change. It makes sense for the Broadband Initiative to use this existing infrastructure to help late adopters understand the value broadband and the connected world.

  2. Jose Marquez- National President of says:

    On behalf of LISTA I want to thank you for holding yesterday's panel on broadband adoption. You're right to point out the need for accessible training and relevant content and applications that non-adopters can use as a gateway to all that the high-speed Internet has to offer.

    For the last 8 years LISTA has been reaching out to non adopters and has development programs to take our community from the class room to the boardroom. Here we have seen tremendous growth in our community which will only move forward if we continue to create awareness on broadband and its uses.

    We need to guarantee that a sustainable framework exists in our communities for increasing capacity among Hispanic, African American, and other traditionally underserved minority students and families for the understanding and mastery of broadband, information sciences and technology, for improving student academic performance in math and sciences and expanding their awareness of and required academic and social preparation needed for the workforce and for bridging the growing digital divide separating minority and non-minority families in our communities.

    We hope that the National Broadband Plan contains a comprehensive support mechanism that engages community non-profits in this effort. LISTA stands ready to assist!

  3. jeremy lansman says:

    I am one of the few local full service TV station owners left in the United States. I personally took over 250 phone calls from viewers. One post DTV transition story I like to tell is this: When viewer questions arose that i thought could be better handled by looking at the I-net I would ask, "Do you have access to the internet?". Sometimes the person on the other end of the phone would say, "No. I have never touched a computer." My response? "Well, you have now. Your TV is a computer. It is frustrating, and difficult, but the rewards will be worth it."

    Quite a number of persons do not have access to the internet. Distance to the public library, expense, no cable, no DSL, sometimes no physical copper pair, and in some cases no satellite coverage due to terrain and foliage obstruction (assuming they have the money) keep a lot of people off the net, especially rural folks. Access to I-net at all, not to speak of >300 kb/s is a "Broadband Adoption Barrier" that needs to be addressed.

  4. Bubba says:

    John: I am working on my PhD in Human Capital Development. My dissertation research deals with evaluation of education and training programs that promote adoption of broadband in rural areas. What are relevant research questions do you think academia can address on this issue?

  5. Susannah Fox says:

    Thanks for highlighting the Pew Internet Project's data on the positive impact of the internet on health care. We ask another question regarding negative impacts and have found it's a flat-liner -- just 3% of adults say they or someone they know has been harmed by following online medical advice.

    Our next report on health will focus on people living with significant health challenges or caring for a loved one. The data show that two groups -- caregivers and people who faced a recent medical emergency -- are significantly more likely than other groups to say that online health information is helpful. That report will be released later this fall on our site,

  6. Deproduction says:

    I hope the "at least $250m" for sustainable adoption is interpreted liberally, and that number grows. Susannah's numbers show that only 17% of non-subscribers list availability as their primary hurdle... and 50% list relevance (or perceived lack of relevance) as the primary reason for not subscribing to broadband in the home. Perhaps more money should be invested in this relevance issue, as opposed to devoting more than 95% to availability. There's certainly a larger demand for stimulus funds directed at adoption. For every dollar being made available for Sustainable Adoption programs in this first round, there was $17 requested in first-round applications. Compare this with availability, where there was only $6 requested for every $1 made available for infrastructure build-out. There seem to be some great perspectives here, and I hope John, Susannah, Kate Williams, and other similarly-minded folks are involved in the review process.

  7. Steve Forstner says:

    When you speak of educating the public to the benefits of broadband, you are speaking of educating the laggards, or perhaps even the late majority of consumers. But, there is a large market of people who already understand the internet and who are ready to adopt broadband if and when it becomes available at a reasonable price. This market is underserved by carriers large and small.

    You can educate people to your product all day long, but if they can't afford it, or if it isn't available, there is no way they can adopt it. In many rural areas the sad reality is that broadband is only available at an inflated cost, and then only in limited quantity.

    There is a large and untapped market for broadband in rural areas. It is untapped because broadband simply is unavailable at anything resembling a reasonable price. In areas where it is available DSL runs about $20 a month for the basic package. But in rural areas wire/cable penetration is usually non-existent and so DSL isn't available. In rural areas we are forced to rely on satellite or cellular internet. These services start at $60 a month. Not only are they more expensive, but they also have a 5gb monthly cap that makes them useless for much more than checking email.

    It strikes me that the cost of running cable/fiber into the rural markets is exorbitant when compared to the revenues that can be generated from it. I expect this is one reason that AT&T, Sprint, Alltel and Verizon have given for not bringing DSL service into many rural markets. The other, and probably unspoken, reason is that it would reduce the profits from their cellular services. If people in the rural markets were given the choice between unlimited DSL service at $20 and capped wireless service at $60, the mobile wireless market would tumble overnight. People would flee these overpriced services as fast as their 2-year contracts could expire. The way things are now, with no cable/fiber alternative, the big carriers are growing a captive audience for their overpriced and underperforming products--an audience that no one seems to care about.

    As an example of this, I live in a community located on a main east/west travel route. There is no DSL and I am told I shouldn't hold my breath in waiting for it. The town library is forced to rely on an expensive satellite system donated by church members. They are always over their usage cap because of the number of people stopping in to use the broadband. (When you use one of these alternate delivery systems and exceed your cap, the provider slows your connection down to dialup speed.)

    What good is the satellite system if it runs at dialup speed the second half of the afternoon? Not much, but it's all we have.

    How do you educate people to the benefits of broadband when you can't even get a sufficient source provided to the libraries? You do it by concentrating on people in areas where broadband already exists and ignoring the fact that a fair-sized portion of the population is unserved or underserved.

    Why do you do this? Because the carriers have convinced you that the problem lies with the consumers and not with the providers.

    Please don't forget us. Remember the rural U.S. in your deliberations and dealings with the carriers. Their penetration on basic highspeed service is dismal. Many of us in rural areas don't need to be convinced to buy the service, we just need to be given the opportunity. The available services are overpriced, limited and/or slow, and are hardly fit to work with. You can fix it and that's why I came here.

  8. Jim Tobias says:

    People with disabilities face additional issues regarding broadband adoption; both technological (when one or more links in the delivery of content is not accessible to them in some way) and socio-psychological (e.g., weak social networks, pessimism about accessibility). These can be overcome; indeed, there are some exemplary programs that do so on a retail level. But wholesale improvements may require policy changes; these in turn should be based on research into disability-specific non-adoption factors, and how other factors like low income and educational attainment affect the market behavior of people with disabilities.

  9. Jim Tobias says:

    Something else about adoption -- some potential users may adopt when they learn about a single app or a constellation of apps that make sense to them -- a personal tipping point. It may be a grandson's high school video production class. Or the church and the bowling league going high-tech in the same week. I'm just speculating here, but there's room for lots of useful research. For example, I'd like to see a study of e-government adoption driving residential adoption.

    Also, we need to keep an eye on users longitudinally, esp. later adopters who may become early abandoners. Is their use growing? Is it growing in bits per app, number of apps, or both? What is the constellation of functionalities that predict sustained usage, versus those that predict abandonment? What are the price effects, esp. if there are discounts that expire?

  10. John Horrigan says:

    Thanks to everyone for the comments. Bubba, for your work, I know we (policymakers, but decision-makers in the private sector) need a solid set of metrics for evaluating programs to promote access (in rural locations or otherwise). Perhaps case studies on selected rural initiatives would yield insights on what works, as well as metric for evaluating programs going forward. I'd love to hear more about what LISTA does -- I stand ready to learn more about your work. And Jim -- your insights are important and we will build them in to our consumer research as it evolves.

  11. David Soderquist says:

    I believe that there is a flawed premise in the discussion about broadband adoption. That flaw is reflected in the premise that 37% of Americans have not adopted broadband. I believe the flaw is based upon access rather than adoption. If one begins with the premise that broadband services available in urban areas as the target standard (based upon up/down speeds, or any other metric), some clarification is needed. 1. What percentage of Americans do not have access to broadband (specifically at the doorstep)? (I suspect that for most of rural America the % without readily available access is well above 75% or higher)? 2. What would be the "true percentages" of adoption/nonadoption based upon where there's access available? (I suspect the 63/37%s would be much different)

    Does it not make better sense to first address/resolve the availability of access rather than to address adoption? (In rural America, most of us can't adoption broadband because it simply isn't available. To include those of us as nonadoptors is misleading and does not address the issue of access).

  12. Guest says:

    Some Barriers to Broadband Adoption will include

    Computer Literacy
    Lack of Awareness/ Interest
    Resistance to Technological Change
    Disadvantaged communities
    Disadvantaged young people
    People with disabilities

    As newer developments in technology and newer products are diffused into the marketplace there will always be those that will be digitally marginalized. This digital divide is an age old phenomenon.
    This socio-economic challenge as with any other will need to be addressed as a “multi-pronged” approach at a macro and micro level.

    Broadly speaking,
    At a micro level:
    1. Research Projects to be conducted to identify non-adopters and reasons for non-adoption
    2. Introduction of more community based online activity via web portals etc.
    3. ICT Training and knowledge transfer of skills through libraries etc.

    At a macro-level
    1. A national broadband strategy that will support projects to increase adoption rates as well as devising methods for increasing penetration
    2. Introduction of Tele-centers and knowledge hubs at areas where access is not available
    3. Encourage competition in the telecommunication sector in a regulated manner

    By attempting to curb inhibitors to adoption through properly planned projects will endeavor to increase adoption rapidly however naturally many of these inhibitors to broadband adoption will phase away given time. I think we’re being impatient.

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