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Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities

March 2, 2010

Our report on broadband adoption commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission is now available:

Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities
A Social Science Research Council report by
Dharma Dailey, Amelia Bryne, Alison Powell, Joe Karaganis, and Jaewon Chung

2 March 2010, Washington, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) unveiled the study findings of the SSRC in its report, Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities, at an event hosted by the American Library Association (ALA).

The SSRC was commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to analyze the factors shaping low rates of adoption of home broadband services in low-income and other marginalized communities. The resulting study is one of the only large-scale qualitative investigations of barriers to adoption in the US, and complements recent FCC survey research on adoption designed to inform the National Broadband Plan. The study draws on some 170 interviews of non-adopters, community access providers, and other intermediaries conducted across the US in late 2009 and early 2010. At the broadest level, it finds that:

  • Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it—and residents of low-income communities know this.
  • Price is only one factor shaping the fragile equilibrium of home broadband adoption, and price pressures go beyond the obvious challenge of high monthly fees. Hardware costs, hidden fees, billing transparency, quality of service, and availability are major issues for low-income communities.
  • Libraries and other community organizations fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand, and provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These support organizations are under severe pressure to meet community connectivity needs, leading to widespread perceptions of a crisis in the provider community.

Related Press:

The FCC’s blog post about the study: Two Studies That Deepen Our Understanding of Barriers to Broadband Adoption by John Horrigan, Consumer Research Director.

The American Library Association’s blog post on the study release event in DC including videos of the presentation and Q&A.

Matt Lasar’s article about the study on Ars Technica: The poor don’t care about broadband? Of course they do.

A podcast from The Economist on the study: Lower-income broadband adoption

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