The Pew Research Center recently announced that only 70% of Americans have broadband internet access, which is up slightly from 66% in 2012, but couched within that number are some distressing statistics.
First, the definition of “broadband” used by the pollsters is anything better than dial-up, with both Pew and the FCC classifying any connection of 4 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads as fast enough to be counted as “broadband,” which is not a very useful metric for the demands of the modern era.
Secondly, the “digital divide” shows no signs of abating, with 89% of college graduates, and 88% of households with more than $75,000 in yearly income, having high-speed internet access at home – while broadband penetration for households of those who did not complete high school stands at a paltry 37% and at just 54% of households with incomes less than $30,000 per year. Suggesting that broadband access is becoming something that fuels economic disparity rather than something that is helping lower income individuals to join the middle class.
Racially, African-Americans and Latinos are far less likely to have high-speed internet access than their Caucasian counterparts, though Pew points out that many blacks and Latinos are starting to mitigate these numbers by utilizing smartphones as their primary connectivity platform, and that among those who don’t have home broadband, approximately 32% have mobile devices, accounting for an additional 10% of Americans with internet access and bringing broadband adoption more in line across racial demographics if one counts smartphones as broadband devices, which many experts consider to be a dubious assertion on its face.
In a recent editorial for Wired Magazine, Susan Crawford, a professor at Columbia University and the Cardozo School of Law, and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, observes: “You could say DSL, satellite, and mobile wireless are all “high-speed broadband,” but that’s just like putting your local high-school football team in the same market as the New York Giants. It’s all football, but the two don’t — and can’t — compete.” With the ever-increasing bandwidth demands of the 21st century, Ms. Crawford argues that universal broadband adoption is what is necessary for America to remain competitive in the new information-centric global economy.
While there have been some moves to bring ultra-high-speed internet access to Americans, such as Google’s famed fiber-to-the-home network in Kansas City, there are powerful forces hard at work amongst the incumbent providers to make restrictive metered usage the norm, delivered through their existent “skinny pipes.”
Meanwhile other countries are stepping up, and making the adoption of true broadband fiber connections affordable for their citizens. The government of New Zealand for example, reduced the risk of up-front investment in fiber networks by financing the building of basic network infrastructure. The final connections to homes are built by private business entities, who then buy back the network from the proceeds of user’s subscription costs. As the government’s investment was returned, it reinvested those funds in further expansion of the country’s fiber infrastructure – creating an economic stimulation and a self-perpetuating roll out of a world-class broadband access for its entire population with a very fast adoption of fiber-to-the-home services.
The shifting economic forces of the new knowledge based economy and slow adoption of access by large segments of society may signal a need for Americans to rethink policy with regard to broadband internet access. As always there is plenty of room for American capitalism in the future of connectivity, but that presupposes a responsibility among business interests to produce adequate and affordable options for consumers in order to avoid creating a competitive disadvantage for ourselves as a nation in the global marketplace.
NationalNet continues to invest heavily in the future and takes significant steps each quarter to maintain the competitive advantage our fully managed hosting and server collocation clients have over other companies. Our own efforts are always subject to the greater environmental question of how many people have access to the internet and how robust that access becomes. Bringing modern advancements to consumers requires a modern infrastructure that can be relied on for the speed, throughput and efficiency that digital content, products and services necessitate. Hopefully the governmental and corporate entities in a position to roll out these advancements all understand how vital their contributions are to the future of our great nation