Our May 2008 survey asked dial-up users why they do not have a broadband connection at home and our December 2007 asked non-internet users about the reasons they do not use the internet. The table below summarizes the results.
To try to make better sense of this variety of reasons, the table below consolidates the data into four categories.
Though the outlines of Obama’s broadband stimulus plan are not yet clear, two barriers identified above are likely targets of such a package: availability and price. These are the main issues for about a third of the adult population currently without broadband service. Providing incentives to build broadband infrastructure directly addresses the availability problem and could be of particular help to Americans living in rural areas, where 24% of dial-up users say they cannot get broadband because high-speed infrastructure doesn’t reach their home.
The price barrier might be addressed in the Obama package, as has been proposed by Free Press and others, by changing the Lifeline and Link-up programs that presently provide subsidies for telephone access so that the programs can also subsidize home broadband access.
Two-thirds of non-broadband adopters, however, do not seem likely targets of efforts to boost the economy through broadband investment. Usability of broadband and other information appliances is mainly a matter for the private sector; friendlier design might make getting a new information service viable for some people.
The largest barrier – relevance – is arguably a catch-all category that captures a range of adoption hurdles that people cannot crisply articulate. When half of dial-up and non-users cite reasons such as “not interested” or “nothing could get me to switch,” it seems clear that networked digital resources do not play enough of a role in their lives to justify a broadband connection.
Addressing the reasons pertaining to relevance is likely to be time-consuming and difficult. Non-adopters are older and lower-income Americans, and it would take time to undertake the training and support needed to turn them into competent online users. Doing this is not a Herculean task --- plenty of models exist to provide online training for low-income and elderly people. But legislators may decide that an economic stimulus package is not the vehicle for expanding on these models.