Broadband Adoption and Usage: If You’re Not Online, You’re Missing What You Need to Know

June 25, 2012 – Having access to broadband technology and other digital tools is a key ingredient to economic, social, and political connectedness. Yet only 69 percent of Americans have broadband internet connections at home. What vital services are the other one-third missing? One example was appar

June 25, 2012 – Having access to broadband technology and other digital tools is a key ingredient to economic, social, and political connectedness. Yet only 69 percent of Americans have broadband internet connections at home.

What vital services are the other one-third missing? One example was apparent at last Tuesday’s Broadband Breakfast Club, on “The Internet Presidential Campaign of 2012”: access to news and information vital to full political participation.

At the Broadband Breakfast Club event, a range of top panelists – including individuals associated with President Barack Obama’s online campaign in 2008, and with Gov. Mitt Romney’s online campaign this year – discussed how new uses of social networking are influencing the race. The event was featured in U.S. News and World Report.

Among the biggest phenomenon: the dramatic drop-off of viewership of live television. Within the last week, 30 percent of Americans said they did not watch live television, either broadcast or cable, according to Ryan Meerstein. In Ohio, a major political battleground state, the number was even higher: 40 percent.

That falloff from live television viewership makes it plain that broadband internet is the multi-faceted medium for communications: whether “broadcast” or customized, whether professional or social. If you aren’t hooked into broadband, you’re likely to be as relevant as broadcast television.

Addressing the Underserved

Next month’s Broadband Breakfast Club – on July 17, 2012 – will address what efforts are being undertaken to promote broadband usage and adoption to the nation’s underserved population. What are governments, corporations and foundations – including the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Lifeline and the industry-led Connect to Compete program – doing to tackle this problem?

It’s also vital to understand the significance of broadband disconnectedness: increasing isolation from the mainstreams of today’s information ecology.

We’ve long adjusted to the fact that the American elite no longer reads the same newspapers or watches the same Nightly News broadcasts. Instead, we’ve moved to an exciting fragmentation in blogs, tweets, and social networks. What we have in common now are the use of social networks: Facebook, Google and other niche marketplaces or business needs.

It’s all the more important that broadband literacy becomes part of our common knowledge. Being able to logon, to use social networks wisely, to search with savvy, and to create a LinkedIn resume as well as a PDF version – these are the types of skills far more necessary than it ever was to be media literate.

Smart Phones and the Broadband Future

It’s not all negative news regarding the nation’s underserved. At last Tuesday’s Broadband Breakfast Club, panelists spoke about the way that political campaigns were using increasingly using mobile broadband technology. “Mobile adoption in the Hispanic community is very high,” said Rob Saliterman of Google. “It is absolutely a way to reach Hispanic voters more efficiently that TV advertising, or other forms of online advertising.”

Mobile is also a way to get through to people whose online activities – or at least their online political activities – are limited during the daytime work hours. Mobile platforms are a way that “this message got to this person, and it would not have gotten to them when they go to the office,” said Stephen Geer of OMP, who worked for Obama’s campaign in 2008.

Broadband researchers have also discussed the phenomenon. “For several years, Pew Internet research has found that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to use their cell phones for non-voice applications such as using the internet, playing games, or accessing multimedia content,” according to a July 2011 report (PDF) by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “These differences extend to smartphone ownership as well, as 44% of black and Latino adults are smartphone owners, compared with 30% of whites.”

Fully 68 percent of smartphone owners use a smartphone to go online in a typical day, and 25 percent of them go online mostly using a smartphone, that study found. Those behavior patterns are remarkable different from those of typical adults. The typical adult may use a smartphone, too, but go online using a computer. Only 23 percent of all adults go online using a smartphone in a typical day, and eight percent go online mostly using a smartphone.

Addressing the Underserved By Tackling Cost, Relevance and Digital Literacy

So while broadband is one key to economic and political engagement, the number of of Americans with broadband at home (the 69 percent) contrasts starkly with the more than 90 percent of Americans who have telephone service at their home.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan from March 2010 identified three areas that need to be addressed to getting all Americans online: the cost of broadband, basic digital literacy skills and highlighting the relevance of broadband. In the lead-up to the Broadband Breakfast Club event on July 17, we aim to analyze several of the key efforts and how they are tackling the problem of getting all Americans access to broadband… and the educational tools that Americans need to make it a part of their daily lives.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on and Twitter. He founded, and he brings experts and practicioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

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