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 digitalliteracy.gov 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.