ntia+broadband stimulus progressNearly three –quarters (72%) of U.S. households used broadband at home as of October 2012, according to a report released last week by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). That was an increase of three percentage points from 2011.

The NTIA also looked at reasons why the 28% of U.S. households without broadband were not using it.

Why No Broadband Usage at Home?
The number one reason, cited by 48% of respondents, was “no need or interest” That percentage was unchanged from 2011, but was up 39% from 2003. Not surprisingly householders age 65 or older were the least interested in going online. Among non-users in that group, 70% said they did not use broadband because they were not interested in going online.

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Source: NTIA Exploring the Digital Nation
Source: NTIA Exploring the Digital Nation

Not all seniors feel that way, however. Home broadband use by people 65 and older rose dramatically between 2007 and 2012 – increasing from 32% to 47%, according to the NTIA.

The second most commonly cited reason for not using broadband at home was cost. Nearly 30% (29%) of householders without broadband at home cited this reason. “Viewed from a different perspective, these figures indicate that 7% of all American households do not have Internet service at home because of the cost,” the NTIA wrote in the newly released report, titled “Exploring the Digital Nation.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly respondents most likely to cite cost as their reason for not using broadband included unemployed householders and those with family incomes below $25,000. The third category most likely to cite cost as a deterrent was families with children in school.

It will be interesting to see how the results for that category change in the NTIA’s analysis of more recent data, considering that several service providers more recently have begun to offer low-cost broadband programs specifically targeting low-income families with children in school. One of the first service providers to launch such an offering was Comcast, whose program kicked off in October 2011 and has gained considerable momentum since then.

Since the NTIA study period, several other service providers also have launched similar programs and all programs have been modified with the goal of increasing usage.

The third most commonly cited reason for not using broadband at home was the lack of a computer or “adequate” computer. This reason was cited by 11% of non-users, down two percentage points from 2011.

That result was in keeping with another NTIA finding: The number of households with a computer at home was 79% according to the NTIA’s October 2012 numbers – an increase of three percentage points over the previous year.

The low-income broadband programs offered by cable companies and other service providers typically include the option of buying a computer at a discounted price – and here, too, it will be interesting to see if these programs impact computer ownership numbers moving forward. Comcast’s program may have had some impact on the NTIA’s 2012 findings.

Other reasons for not using broadband, according to the NTIA, included being able to use it somewhere else (cited by 3% of non-users), lack of availability (1%) privacy or security concerns (1%) and others.

The Mobile Alternative
In discussing broadband adoption, it’s also important to note the role that smartphones can play in bridging gaps. Although the NTIA apparently did not study smartphones specifically, the agency did find that mobile phone use among those with family incomes below $25,000 increased 4 percentage points – from 73% to 77% — between 2011 and 2012. During that same period, mobile phone use among seniors 65 and older grew by 4%.

Mobile phones appear to be helping to narrow the digital divide, the gap between the technology haves and have-nots, among traditionally disadvantaged groups,” wrote the NTIA in a press release about the new findings.

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