WASHINGTON, October 6, 2010 – The final day of the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference looked at broadband adoption and universality. The problems addressed are key in helping the government determine how broadband is being adopted and where intervention is necessary.
The panel on adoption included a presentation by John Horrigan from the Federal Communications Commission, who showed that non-adopters claim price is a major factor in their lack of access.
When controlling for price, however, the paper found that one of the most powerful factors to get non-adopters to subscribe is the support of a social network that includes adopters. This theory is key to the FCC’s digital literacy corps program. That initiative aims to train young people in technology in the hopes that they in turn will teach their families and communities.
The lack of a social network that finds the internet useful may be key in why the final non-adopters do not use the internet. If these individuals do not have any adopters in their social network then they are not exposed to the benefits of broadband.
Janice Hauge from the University of North Texas discussed her paper on demand side policies that reinforced Horrigan’s findings by showing that when individuals find technology relevant they are more likely to adopt it. “A program should motivate non-users to adopt, make broadband affordable, employ content in the training that relates to everyday life or the use of public services, and focus on the accessibility and usability of broadband and online services.”
Nocil Tuner-Lee from the Joint Center observed that among African Americans, younger people are actively helping their community learn about the value of the internet.
This research mimics findings that the Rural Electrification Administration found in the 1930s when trying to expand electricity.
The final panel of the day looked at the issues surrounding universal access. While it is clear to both the FCC and researchers that the Universal Service Fund is broken, there are numerous possible solutions.
Dawn Nafus from Intel Labs presented a paper that found that while those in Washington say that they must provide funds for rural Americans, many of those living in rural America do not want federal funds to be spent on this. Additionally, it is important to note that many living in rural America choose to live in areas where communication is not easy and choose not to have access, she said. However, if they can see the case for using broadband to better education, public safety and economic expansion, they are more likely to support funding and invest their own money.
Scott Wallsten, formerly from the FCC, presented a paper which analyzed the level of competition in broadband providers. He found that on average most census tracts have two providers but they do not always cover the same area and so may not be in direct competition. Looking at speeds available, cable subscribers generally subscribe to faster speeds. However, there is increased growth in the fiber-to-the-home market. Even with super-fast broadband available, most Americans choose speeds of between 15-20 megabits per second downstream since they do not see a compelling reason to buy faster speeds.
There are major problems when trying to determine pricing; primarily the fact that most consumers purchase their broadband as part of a bundle with television and phone service makes it difficult to determine the price of just the broadband. Additionally, often there are time-linked deals which decrease the price of the service. However, the paper showed that on average the price of broadband is generally around $45, which is similar to what Pew Center research has found.