CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 2/12/2013 | 13 comments

Sara Peters
Though broadband is now technically available to 98 percent of the US population, only about 68 percent of households are using it. True, the government might define "broadband" more loosely than speed-freak techies like us, but that doesn't change the fact that there is an enormous difference between broadband technology deployment and broadband adoption in the US -- and CIOs might be able to help bridge that gap.

Last week at the Broadband Summit of the Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Services, Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, delivered a keynote address that discussed how to address the challenge of broadband adoption. From his remarks:

Our survey results indicate that the reasons consumers give most often for not subscribing is that they do not need broadband or are not interested in it. Cost is the second most frequently given reason, followed by the lack of an adequate computer.
A key learning reported by our grantees is that we cannot solve the adoption gap by focusing on only one of the barriers. A successful program must address all the major barriers in a comprehensive fashion. Those programs that combine digital literacy training with a low-cost computer and discounted broadband service have reported that a substantial number of persons going through the program end up subscribing to broadband at home.

Could CIOs help increase broadband adoption? Should they? I say yes to both.

If you're trying to expand your ability to support remote users and enable more people to work from home offices, you've got a perfect opportunity to educate your users on the benefits of broadband. You could set a policy that lets users work remotely only if they have broadband at home. If it's cost-effective for your company, you could have a talk with your HR department about providing employees with a subsidy to help make home broadband Internet service more affordable for them.

Strickling also suggested that broadband education programs should be tailored to address the needs of the people they're trying to persuade to invest in broadband. Who better than you CIOs to tailor those messages? You understand your employees' needs and how better computing can help them. Strickling cited successful broadband education programs in rural Maine that were tailored for lobstermen and blueberry farmers. He also cited examples of parents subscribing to broadband services after attending a workshop given by a child's school.

If blueberry farmers can be convinced to buy broadband service, then surely your users can be convinced. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will release a Broadband Adoption Toolkit soon. In the meantime, you can have a look at for tips on how to encourage broadband adoption.

I've spent many words on E2 lamenting the fact that rural areas in America go unserved or underserved, because ISPs don't think deploying Internet infrastructure in those places is worthwhile and because the government doesn't do enough to convince them otherwise. Yet, in fairness, I should add that the NTIA has issued $4 billion of stimulus fund grants since 2009. So the overall picture has definitely improved, though the quality of broadband service remains quite imbalanced. Have a look at the National Broadband Map, maintained by the NTIA, and you'll see what I mean.

A New York Times story today did an excellent job of laying out the complications and complexities of this issue. According to the story, though ISPs are beginning to use government grants to lay down more cable in rural areas, a lot of the cable is going to regions that already have broadband. (People in the better-served regions could benefit by having more ISPs to choose from, but other regions are still being ignored.) Perhaps the NTIA's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which administers the grants, should dole out money in the same way healthcare subsidies have been treated -- the organizations would earn the subsidy only by proving that the new technology will be put to meaningful use.

What do you think? Are ISPs and the government doing enough to enhance Internet service quality and broadband adoption in the US? Are you ready to take on the challenge of pumping up broadband adoption in your neck of the woods? Let us know in the comments below.

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nasimson   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/28/2013 2:15:46 PM
Reach out to the millions
@Sara: I was just reading about the same issue the other day. I think this might be  very helpful for you as it exactly answers one of the questions you asked in your article.
Cyrus   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/14/2013 6:08:14 PM
Re: Digital Divide
@Sara I've come to believe that people with philsophies associated with mainstream Democrats and progressives have tried too hard to win over this increasing anti-government group with logic. They're engaging in this behavior for a variety of reasons -- none of which will be dissauded by rational thought.

Quite simply, most of these anti-government states couldn't exist without the government because there wouldn't be a private market solution that would deliver the margins a private business would need to provide services. Now that we've given them universal phone service, high-speed Internet in schools and other things, they're all the sudden anti-government?

That shows me that, while from a societal standpoint, those investments may have been good in concept, when you consider what's happening now, I'm not sure future investments are a good idea. Experience teaches people and perhaps we need to let some of these anti-establishment people see that they're not exactly as independent as they think they are.

There are a number of things happening on the political and public policy front that reflect a growing minority of folks that are scared by demographic shifts in the country and a fear that they're losing out of the American dream. Of course, the latter is largely because they failed to keep pace with the skills needed in the future. But rather than acknowledge that, they choose to just be bitter and make life tough for others.

I don't think we should make children pawns in this crazy game, so I'm all for putting useful technology in schools. But as far as increasing broadband adoption as a whole with government money, I'm leaning toward "no."
Sara Peters   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/14/2013 5:50:28 PM
Re: Digital Divide
@Cyrus  You've just given me a lot of food for thought. I don't know. I'm an odd person to be trying to represent Rural America since I've never lived in a rural area. But what is the right way to deal with the "anti-government" sentiment -- to give up on trying to please them or to try to give them better services so that they get a more pro-government attitude?
Cyrus   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/14/2013 5:44:02 PM
Re: Digital Divide
@Sara In truth, though, how many people are really customers of companies that aren't spinoffs of the old Bell monopoly? I haven't really lived in small town America for more than 20 years and know at the time, there were actually some locally-owned companies that served very small towns. But over time, most of those got gobbled up -- especially as long distance service became a commodity and something that could no longer be a standalone business.

I know The Times said these grants were responsible for an increase in fiber being laid in underserved areas -- in some cases even duplicating existing installations. However, my parents still live in a small town and the best they can get is non-fiber DSL.

Not to get overly political here, but to some degree, I think we're spitting in the wind trying to expand high-speed service to rural America. Rural America is increasingly becoming anti-government, so is that really the best way to spend the tax dollars that donor states like NY and CA send to these areas. The imbalance is bad enough now as it is.
David Wagner   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/13/2013 2:25:22 PM
Re: Meh
@Sara- I don't mean to downplay it, but we've seen in research we've covered at E2 that online banking and government services are being used MORE by the poor than by the middle class. There have also been studies showing that the digital divide is shrinking because of mobile.

The problem, of course, comes in how we measure the data on the digital divide. We don't have good data. A clumsy way to do it (but one we have data on is race).

African Americans and Hispanics, two often cited risk group for the digital divide, are using mobile devices faster than white folks. In 2009, over half of hispanics and African Americans had smart phones compared to 29 percent of caucasions. While those numbers have increased for everyone (I can't find data newer than 2011) so-called high risk groups are still way ahead.

While 84% of caucasions have broadband and only 69% of hispanics do, the ratio is flipped for mobile usage.

Of course, race and economic status are not linked. There are plenty of rich folks in every race messing with the noise.

But mobile is a far more cost effective way for low-income families to access the internet, and the data is showing they're simply skipping broadband.

Granted, the poorest of the poor have neither and that's something I am very much in favor of fixing. And the data is difficult to parse. But honestly, I'm less worried about broadband than I am about mobile access.
Sara Peters   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/13/2013 2:11:17 PM
Re: Meh
@Dave  The thing is, it isn't just that broadband makes it possible to work from home and watch cat videos. As time goes on, there are more government services and banking services that are available online. That's stuff that citizens shouldn't miss out on.
Sara Peters   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/13/2013 2:08:02 PM
Re: Digital Divide
Just to add another wrinkle to the conversation here... one of the things mentioned in the New York Times story I referenced was that when the big telecoms started entering into these rural regions they made it hard for the little local telecoms to stay in business... so it can help small business in some ways and hurt it in others.
Sara Peters   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/13/2013 2:04:27 PM
Re: Digital Divide
@Susan  I 100% agree: "I think "public access" broadband is as important as free radio and TV was for earlier generations."
Susan Nunziata   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/13/2013 12:12:15 AM
Re: Digital Divide
@Curt: Great point, again it comes down to ability to be competitive in what is now a global  business environment, even for the smallest of local businesses. 
CurtisFranklin   CIOs Can Increase Broadband Adoption   2/12/2013 11:23:21 PM
Re: Digital Divide
@Susan, I've recently seen a number of articles about low-income students who must go to Macdonalds or similar places in order to do their homework. The "digital divide" is very real in many communities.

There's another digital divide that is talked about less often: There are many, many communities that don't have broadband available to any address in town. This lack limits business opportunities and limits the educational opportunities for their students relative to students in other, better connected locations. That's a divide I hope we can bridge very soon.
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