The federal government is spending tens of billions of dollars across the country to increase access to broadband. This buildout over the next couple of years will certainly increase the percentage of households using the internet at home. However, beyond access, actual adoption of broadband service is also a challenge.
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) recent internet use survey, about 24 million households do not use the internet at home. While you might assume that lack of internet access at home is merely a function of affordability, the reality is that only 18% cite lack of affordability as a barrier. That percentage is low, in part, because of various broadband industry private sector efforts that have made broadband affordable for many. In addition to those private sector efforts, the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program is making internet access free for millions of Americans via subsidy.
Of those who do not have internet at home, 58% say that they have no interest or need. This number has barely moved since 2017, even despite a pandemic that left many trapped at home with the internet as the only choice for access to education, healthcare and even basic human interaction.
And while no one should be forced to have internet access, digital literacy programs embedded in private sector affordability efforts have been proven to help people understand the value of internet access in their home and acquire the skills to be able to effectively navigate the internet. This is important because it will become increasingly difficult to participate in modern life lacking basic internet skills. Solutions beyond private industry efforts could also include some forms of public-private partnership.
A recent analysis from the University of Missouri highlights the importance of expanding adoption. The report, “Economic Benefits of Expanding Broadband in Missouri: Atchison, Gentry and Worth Counties,” summarizes, “To realize broadband’s economic benefits community residents and businesses must increasingly adopt broadband service and gain skills in using broadband-related technologies. Increased broadband adoption and use drives long-term economic gains.” Those economic gains, even when small, end up resulting in more and better jobs, as well as a larger local economy.
With government spending taxpayer money to provide broadband access, now is the time to begin thinking about expanding adoption. As broadband adoption increases, so too will the local economy, not to mention the benefits of education, healthcare, retail, entertainment and connection.