broadbandAmericans are sharply divided when it comes to whether or not federal laws should permit local governments to build, own and operate public broadband networks or subsidize home broadband network access for low-income residents, according to a broadband attitudes survey from the Pew Research Center.

Seven in 10 agree that federal law should permit local governments to own and operate their own broadband networks. Twenty-seven percent said they should not.

Back in 2015, during the Obama administration, the FCC preempted state laws passed in North Carolina and Tennessee that prohibited or restricted municipal or publicly owned community broadband networks. Two Democratic commissioners voted in favor of the ruling. Two Republican commissioners voted against it.

“This decision is pro-broadband,” then FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said at the time. “This decision is pro-competition. And this decision is for the right of Americans, through their elected local officials, to make their own decisions about their broadband future.”

On the other hand, less than half (44%) of respondents to a Pew survey said federal law should permit local governments to subsidize home broadband access for lower income Americans, Pew highlights. Fifty-four percent said home broadband access is sufficiently low in cost that nearly every U.S. household should be able to afford a subscription on their own.

Data from a Pew Center study published in January runs contrary to the majority opinion, however. Pew found that while 91 percent of U.S. households in which college graduates live have home broadband, just 34 percent of those where members do not have high school diplomas do.

Broadband Attitudes Survey
The division in public opinion regarding government subsidization of home broadband access for low income Americans falls along lines of political affiliation, Pew found. Six in 10 respondents who identified themselves as Democrats or independents who lean Democratic said the government should help lower income Americans purchase home broadband services. That falls to just 14 percent among Republicans and independents who lean Republican.

In contrast, 74 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans said local governments should be permitted to own and operate municipal and public co-op broadband networks.

Race, ethnicity and income also serve to differentiate public opinion regarding broadband subsidies, according to Pew. About 6 in 10 black Americans (59%) and Hispanic Americans (57%) believe the government should subsidize broadband access for low-income Americans. That falls to 37 percent among white Americans.

Furthermore, more than half (55%) of those living in households with annual incomes less than $30,000 support subsidization. That falls to 35 percent among those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more.

One issue that the large majority of Americans can agree on is that home broadband service is essential or at least important in our society today. Nearly half (49%) said it was essential, while 41 percent said it was important but not essential.

Looking at if from the perspective of political affiliation, 58 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democratic said home broadband access is essential. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) of Republicans and those who lean Republican believe that’s the case.

Not surprisingly, Pew researchers also found that those with home broadband value it more highly than those who lack it. More than half (52%) of those with home broadband service described it as essential. The corresponding figure among those who lack home broadband service was 36 percent.

Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.

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