Better Data, More Home Computers Could be "Best Practices" on Demand Side, Experts Say

Broadband Stimulus, NTIA May 12th, 2009

, Reporter, BroadbandBreakfast.com

SAN MATEO, Calif., May 11, 2009 – “Best Practices” for increasing broadband “take rates” should include better data collection and a focus on placing more computers in homes and schools, a panel of experts said Monday at the Tech Policy Summit’s Broadband Innovation conference.

Despite recent studies showing increasing adoption of broadband internet services, demand in minority and low-income communities remains a “major concern,” said Connected Nation National Policy Director Philip Brown. Brown specifically cited recent data reflecting a “take rate” approximately 20 percent below the national average for minorities and Americans with disabilities.

Education is also a factor in whether a household is likely to subscribe to broadband service, Brown said. Consumers without college degrees are equally unlikely to use services, he said, without regard to race or ethnicity.

But making a clear determination of where broadband is and is not being used requires a better map than currently exists, he said.  “To truly use a broadband map…it needs to be as detailed as possible.”  In particular, Brown said a properly implemented mapping project will be extremely granular, and easy to update with future data.

Demand can best be stimulated with programs to increase digital literacy and therefore encourage the purchase of both services and equipment, said One Economy Corp. vice president Alan Greenlee. There are benefits to “public access” programs  based out of libraries and community technology centers, he said. But the focus of demand-side programs must be the home, he cautioned. “As a national public policy, the home needs to be the primary focus.”

Digital literacy programs can be especially successful when scaled properly, said Children’s Partnership Technology Associate Elaine Carpenter. Carpenter singled out the California Emerging Technology Fund “school to home” program for its narrow focus on households on “the wrong side of the digital divide.”

And while Greenlee called the $250 million earmarked in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for demand-side and education programs “a wise piece of public policy,” he said he still harbored concerns that local groups already working in underserved areas may be ignored.

Grass-roots efforts to stimulate demand at the local level on a “county by county basis” are especially effective, Brown said. In particular, he said online access to government services can be a driver of increased broadband adoption.

The number one barrier to adoption, Brown said, is the belief that broadband services aren’t useful in the home. But programs that put computers in the home create a “tipping point” in driving adoption, he said, adding the cost of access is probably less of a hinderance than the cost of a computer itself.

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