The latest and largest study of broadband Internet usage in America is out, and the findings are less than scholarly.
It turns out that highly educated people earning the largest salaries and living in metropolitan areas are the most likely to have broadband Internet connection at home.
So where does that place a state that perennially puts up low numbers in college degrees, household income and population density? Right where you might expect. Arkansas was ranked 48th in the country, ahead of only Alabama and often-lowliest Mississippi.
Aside from stating the obvious in general terms, the survey of more than 54,000 Americans in October 2009 by the U.S. Department of Commerce actually examined in great detail the varying demographic and geographic characteristics of broadband users.
The term “broadband” includes several types of high-speed Internet connections ranging from DSL and cable to more advanced technologies such as dedicated T-1 and fiber optic lines. All have much faster connection speeds than dial-up, which uses normal telephone lines to connect.
Broadband connections allow users to download and upload data at faster rates, enabling the sharing of large files, such as photos and videos. Broadband is the launch pad that has allowed YouTube’s numbers to skyrocket. (More than 12 billion videos were viewed each month in the U.S. in 2009.)
Formally titled “Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States,” the report found that nearly two out of three households use a broadband Internet connection at home.
Here in Arkansas, the figure is only 51 percent, which happened to be the national average as recently as 2007.
In parsing out data along socioeconomic, population, educational and racial lines, the study attempted to measure broadband usage disparities among individual segments by controlling against other characteristics.
The largest adoption gap occurs by income differentiation. In whole numbers, only 36 percent of households with income less than $25,000 have broadband, versus an almost universal 94 percent of households with more than $100,000 income, almost a 60-point difference.
But after accounting for other characteristics such as education, age and race, the difference in broadband usage between the lowest and highest household incomes is reduced to a still-significant 34 percentage points. Other gaps were less pronounced: between highest and lowest education, 29 percent; urban and rural household, 7 percent.
It’s difficult to know what forms the foundation of the gaps after other factors are controlled and presumably neutralized. The main impediments to broadband usage appeared to be a mix of reasons. The most often mentioned was lack of interest (38 percent), followed by affordability (26 percent said it was too expensive), lack of a computer (18 percent) and unavailability (4 percent).
Overall, the report provides a good snapshot of year-old data, which some consider ancient in the Digital Age, but the most amazing information is found in its comparison of broadband usage data from 2001-09.
One thing’s for sure in the fast-changing world of the Internet: The cyberscape shifts so frequently that our memories get artificially shortened. 2001 doesn’t seem that long ago, and it certainly doesn’t seem so different as the data show.
If Arkansas’ 51 percent broadband Internet adoption seems anemic today, try chewing on the fact that it was a piddling 4 percent back in 2001. Were we all really still stuck waiting on dial-up just a decade ago?
Incredibly, the number of households in the nation connecting to the Internet using broadband was only 9 percent; it’s increased sevenfold since then.
The growth rate for the sub-categories is full of multiples, too.
Only 2.4 percent of households headed by someone with less than a high school diploma had a broadband connection in 2001; by 2009, the figure was 12 times larger, 29 percent.
Sixteen percent of college graduate households were broadband users in 2001, compared to 85 percent in 2009.
In 2001, only 3.1 percent of households 65 and older used broadband; in 2009, the figure was 40 percent. Broadband was used most by those 16 to 44 in both time frames: 71 percent in 2009 but only a paltry 11 percent in 2001.
The growth among black households was tremendous, going from 4.7 percent using broadband in 2001 to 49 percent in 2009. Hispanics saw a similar increase.
Some adoption gaps, such as those between blacks and whites and between the highest and lowest incomes, shrank during the decade. Others, such as between education levels and urban and metropolitan locations, stayed about the same.
What the report confirms is that broadband is changing the world as we know it. From 2001, states such as West Virginia , Indiana, Montana , Kentucky and New Mexico had all leapfrogged Arkansas by 2009.
What do they know about rural broadband development that we don’t?